The Lincoln Christian Church has verified its legendary claim to fame: Abraham Lincoln not only practiced as a lawyer in its first church building, but also served as a judge there as well. Church staff recently confirmed that connection, and announced it to their congregation at its services on Sunday morning.
"We are the only church in the nation to have this connection to any U.S. President," said Todd Parmenter, the church's Executive Minister.
Parmenter and Preaching Minister, Ron Otto began researching the church's roots several months ago, in preparation for a sermon series. "We had heard rumors about the church's history, and we wanted to know if they were true," Otto said. Parmenter grew up in the Lincoln Christian Church, and says the history of the church "means a lot to the people of our church."
Members had told Otto and Parmenter about a plaque that had once hung in their second church building, that linked the original church building to Abraham Lincoln. After months of searching, Parmenter says, all they could find was one photo of the plaque from 1975.
The plaque text is readable in the photo and states, "Pending erection of a new courthouse for Logan County to replace one destroyed by fire in 1857, the original Christian Church built on this site that year was used as both Church and Circuit Courtroom and here Abraham Lincoln practiced law and by common consent acted as temporary judge."
Church member and Lincoln College Museum Curator, Ron Keller, says that some historians had disputed the plaque's claim, since Lincoln was in Chicago trying a case in the fall of 1857. However, evidence was found that Lincoln tried at least three cases in the spring of 1858 in the original Lincoln Christian Church.
It took a little more "digging," and Keller found proof that Lincoln also sat pro tem in place of David Davis in a foreclosure case in the spring of 1858, involving $250 and two mules that were used as collateral.
That historic first Lincoln Church building was destroyed in a fire in 1902, and Otto said that only one item was saved from the fire: the church bell that hangs in a tower in the church's present building.
Paramenter said that during their research they found a photo showing the bell being brought from the second building to the current one. And, they found an article saying that the bell was the only item that survived the 1902 fire.
Still, Paramenter and Otto wanted to verify the bell in their present church was the one that dated back to the 1800's. With no easy access to the bell, Paramenter climbed up several feet of ladder to reach it. He said the moment he saw the date, "1868" on the side of the bell, was an "exciting" one. "I began yelling, "It's the bell. It's the bell."
The research also found that Justice of the Peace J.Q. Primm had given the church a display of three items: a boot jack, a fireplace poker, and a pair of tongs, all said to have been used by Lincoln when he practiced law at the church. Parameter says the church is looking for information about what may have happened to that display and to the plaque.
The church plans to pursue recognition from the State Historical Society.