Abilene’s Brethren in Christ congregation is rooted in the city’s origins. Sometimes called River Brethren, because the earliest members — immigrants from Switzerland — settled mainly along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, they fanned out westward following the Civil War. Some of them, mostly farmers, arrived in Abilene in the 1870s, just as the town was transitioning from its early success as a shipping point for cattle.
One of the characteristics of River Brethren was their devotion to a simple life, and a wariness of amusements such as card playing. They met for worship services in members’ homes for many years. The first church they built in Abilene was at 12th and Buckeye; it burned down in 1893. They rebuilt on the northeast corner of 7th and Buckeye, and remained there until 1970, when they moved to their present location.
Among the church members: members of the Eisenhower family. After Dwight graduated from high school in 1909, he went to work at Belle Springs Creamery, pulling 12-hour shifts, seven days a week. The business was founded by members of the Brethren in Christ church. (Another iconic Abilene business established by church members: Shockey & Landes.)
Today the church maintains its focus on community and outreach. It has a free dinner every Wednesday evening. The sanctuary walls are adorned with the flags of countries where it has missionaries.
“We are a missionary church,” says Marita Millner, president of the church’s board of Christian life. There is nothing ostentatious about the church and its leaders saw that fitting the church’s mission perfectly. The tour provides a new outreach opportunity.
“I think it’s important,” Marita says. “We always want to get people into our church and we decided, what better way? This is God saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got a chance to open your doors and let people in.'”
Cookies and punch will be served, and there will be a display of historically significant items.