^pBy Kari D. Ross
In the early 1900s, Rocky Mount was a small rural but growing town. The dirt streets were filled mostly with either folks on foot (the usual mode) or horse and buggy. Only an occasional automobile would have been seen even into the 1920s. Vegetation and animals still appeared more plentiful than houses and buildings, at least when looking at pictures of Scott Hill from that time period. In 1919, World War I had just ended, but according to a local historian, the town was “still smarting from the War Between the States” with punitive taxes to ship goods up north. Prohibition had started in Virginia in 1916 and nationally in 1919 so that infamous new era was beginning in Franklin County.
After the Civil War, churches began popping up in the county. Then as WWI was horrifying the world and the temperance movement was trying to control the chaos, a group of seven ladies got together and decided the county seat of Franklin needed a Christian (Disciples of Christ) Church. After several years of planning, raising money and collecting charter members, Rocky Mount Christian Church opened its doors on Oct. 12, 1919. The church had 23 charter members that first year. By 1921 there were more than 100 congregants.
The church’s history in many ways has followed the rhythms of time just like the county. The charter members’ names will be familiar: Chitwood, Arrington, Davis, Ferguson, Dudley and Perdue just to name a few. Franklin County is big on family, and the church is big on family. In fact, many of the descendants of those original charter members still fill the sanctuary today on Sunday mornings.
This denomination, Christian Church, began in the 1800s during the Second Great Awakening as a uniquely American church. Two ministers — a Scottish immigrant and Kentucky pioneer — became disenchanted with the structural authoritarianism of the Presbyterian church of the time. They came together as the Stone-Campbell movement and formed a new church that stressed Christian unity, a purer theology and individual freedom, with an emphasis on communion every Sunday for all and any who believe in Jesus Christ. The denomination grew to 1.2 million members by 1906 with several churches in Franklin County already established by the turn of the century. Doe Run Christian Church is considered a sister-church because so many of the original charter members had been members there.
Franklin County, despite its colorful history of lawlessness, has always had a thriving church community.
The Church of the Brethren, Methodists, Baptist, Presbyterian and Episcopalians have been here since the beginning. But in a survey done in Rocky Mount in 1941, the Christian Church was the third largest denomination after Methodist and Baptists.
Many will remember Kittinger’s Pharmacy on Main Street. Oscar Tyree Kittinger started his drug store in 1919 and became a prominent member of our church.
Other business folks in the community, as well as farmers, housewives and their families, have filled the pews. Today there are local business folks and many teachers and medical professionals. From the beginning, the church has been a family that sticks together and takes care of its community with professions that serve the local population.
Many changes have occurred over the ensuing 100 years, and many things have stayed the same. In 1959, the original brick sanctuary was torn down and the new church, that today faces Main Street toward the crest of Scott Hill, was built in its place. Throughout the years, surrounding property has been purchased for ample parking. Approximately 20 years ago, the house next door was purchased, and as the church house, is a place for Pastor Matt’s office and group meetings.
There have been many years of Sunday schools, church choirs, pastors and countless celebrations, as well as struggles. But most importantly, the church has worshipped together as a family and as the body of Christ, caring for one another and our community. The spirit of the families of 100 years ago is still a part of the church culture today, even as many new families have been knitted in over time. As a new member of this wonderful church and a relative outsider, (I’ve only lived in the county for 8 years), I have been lovingly received here just as if I had been a part of the family forever. It’s not the details of the family that matter, it’s the culture of warmth and welcome that has been passed down that makes this church so special.
A centennial celebration will be held Oct. 13 at 11 a.m. All are welcome.