NEW KNOXVILLE — First United Church of New Knoxville celebrates 175 years this fall with a host of special events including a German buffet and concert on Oct. 26 and a post-service lunch on Oct. 27.
The church, founded in 1838, has served as a place bringing the community together and changing in step with the community, said the Rev. Dr. David Williams, pastor of the church. The first sermons were given in German.
The Rev. Tanke was the first pastor and served for two years but was dismissed because was considered too liberal for New Knoxville. The church had no pastor to follow him, but urged the local schoolteacher to take the post. The teacher, F.W.H. Kuckherman, served for more than 40 years, retiring in the 1890s.
The family of Kuckherman has since changed their names to Kuck, but kept their great-great-grandfather’s preaching Bible and have donated it to the church in honor of the 175th celebration.
The Bible, written in high German, still has Kuckherman’s notes. While it was well worn at the time of donation, the church had it conserved to fix loose pages and binding. A special case is being made to be put the book on display, Williams said.
In its heyday, Time Magazine named First United on of the top 12 churches of the century. Students into the 1920s had to be able to quote catechisms in German.
“It was a megachurch before there was the term megachurch,” Williams said.
When Kuckherman retired, however, the next pastor went in another direction, eventually splitting the church, taking many congregation members with him to a new congregation.
It was the vision of Kuckherman that reunited the church and community, Williams said. In 1894, the former pastor had a picture painted of a grand building he thought would bring the community back together. That core building and clock tower are still part of the church today. The church members did return.
“They rejoined later and eventually healed that rift,” Williams said.
The church has sent forth 100 members who have entered church-related vocations, and as the community has changed the church has changed, but a number of founding families like the Kucks and Fledderjohanns are still represented eight to nine generations later.
Williams said there is still a traditional Sunday service, though it’s now in English. Wednesday nights the church now offers a contemporary service and small Bible study groups.
Some things haven’t changed. Since its beginning, Williams said music has been hallmark of the church. The order of service changed but it’s still a traditional service with hymns, scriptures and sermons.
Williams said non-members are invited to their celebration, though buffet tickets have to be purchased in advance.
“The reason it’s important to celebrate is to give thanks for the foresight of our forbearers for the building, founding and congregation that lives in present to tell the story of the gospel in a relevant fashion,” Williams said. “The purpose of the church is unchanging ... The doors are open wide.”