It is appropriate that "community" is part of First Community Church's name.

It is appropriate that "community" is part of First Community Church's name.

From its beginnings 100 years ago, the church served as not only a religious institution, but as a kind of community center, church historian Jackie Cherry said.

Cherry, who has served as First Community's historian for 30 years, is completing work on a centennial book detailing the church's 100-year history. The book will be published later this year,

First Community served as the Tri-village area's first library, published the community's first newspaper and also lays claim as the area's first movie theater, she said.

"The people who founded the church did so because the only churches they could attend were in downtown Columbus, which in those days was a long trolley ride away," Cherry said.

In particular, community members wanted to create a Sunday school convenient for their children to attend, she said.

In 1909, a committee of Marble Cliff residents organized the first Sunday school classes in the suburban Columbus area, Cherry said. The classes met in the Harding School on Fairview Avenue.

"What's interesting to me was that this was such a brand new community back then," she said. "Marble Cliff was founded in 1901 and Grandview was incorporated in 1906. There were all these families, people who moved out here for the summer or young families with children, who wanted activities for the community."

Under the leadership of Oliver C. Weist, who became the minister of what was then called Grandview Heights Congregational Church in 1915, the church became a centerpiece of the community, Cherry said.

"That was his passion and his belief, that the church should serve the community's needs, not just its religious needs," she said.

Weist formed an orchestra and men's chorus and directed that a movie be shown at the end of the Field Day event in 1919.

In 1916, the church opened the first community library.

"It was very popular, used by both church members and other members of the community," Cherry said. "The community had planned to put a bond issue on the ballot to create a library district for Grandview in 1923, but there were so many important issues on the ballot that year, including a school levy, they decided to delay it for a year and asked First Community if we could continue our library for a while longer."

By that time, the church had adopted First Community Church as its name. In 1919, the congregation voted unanimously to drop ties with the Congregational Church.

"They wanted to be a church that would serve the whole community, and they thought they could be more successful if they weren't attached to a particular denomination," Cherry said.

First Community became affiliated with the United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ in 1959.

The church's tradition of progressive, community-minded leadership continued in 1935 when Roy Burkhart became minister, she said.

"He was as innovative as Oliver Weist, if not more so," Cherry said.

Burkhart created the first Bar None dance in 1938, an event to provide the young people of the community with a fun activity in an alcohol-free setting, she said. The dance became an annual New Year's Eve event after 1941 and lasted into the 1970s.

The list of other innovative programs and activities initiated by the church during Burkhart's tenure is long, Cherry said.

The church acquired land in Hocking County that later became Camp Akita in 1949, she said.

Under Burkhart's leadership, the church opened the Day Nursery School; organized the Cambridge Club, the first church singles group in the country; began broadcasting its services on radio; and opened the Tri-Village Trading Post, Cherry said.

In 1950, a poll of 100,000 clergymen conducted by "The Christian Century" named First Community Church one of the 12 great churches in America.

Four years earlier, Burkhart had been selected as the first president of the National Council of Community Churches.

By the time the church's 50th anniversary service was held in 1959 at Veterans Memorial, First Community's congregation had grown so large, it had become the only church in Ohio with closed circuit television so the crowds overflowing the sanctuary could watch the Sunday services.

"I really believe our early ministers set a tradition of innovation and forward-thinking that we still have today," Cherry said. "I think that is what makes us such a special church."

First Community's centennial celebration kicked off Sunday with a centennial musical performed during the Sunday services by the church's young people.

The celebration will continue in April and May with an opening of the cornerstone at the South Campus on April 16, special centennial services on April 19, April 26 and May 3 and a Coming Together dinner celebration May 2 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Cherry said her book, "Reflections on Our Heritage," will be available for purchase at the May 2 event.