Founding a Church

On July 10, 1842, a group of Christians gathered at the courthouse in the city of DeWitt, in the Iowa Territory, “to consult in reference to their interest and duty as the professed disciples of Jesus Christ.” This group resolved, “that it is expedient to proceed immediately to organize a church of Christ to be known and designated as the First Congregational Church of DeWitt.” The people who were gathered assented to Articles of Faith and Covenant that had been previously prepared, presented certificates of standing from other churches, and, “solemnly agreed to enter publicly into covenant with each other and with God, and to be known as a church of Jesus Christ.”

Originally, there were seven members of the congregation: David Bedford, Charles Dutton, Jonas M. Oakes, Oliver Emerson Jr., Ambrose Betts, Polly Evans, Eliza F. Bedford.

Rev. Oliver Emerson
Rev. Oliver Emerson, the first pastor of First Congregational Church.

On April 16, 1843, the church again met at the courthouse and voted that Rev. Oliver Emerson present a copy of the church’s Articles of Faith and Covenant to the Congregational Association of Iowa and request that the church be admitted to that Association. At the same meeting, the congregation, “Voted that Rev. O. Emerson be requested to labor with this church for the ensuing year in the work of the ministry, and that Rev. J.M. Oakes circulate a subscription for his support.”

On June 10, 1843, the church received news that it had been accepted into the Congregational Association of Iowa.

The Original Covenant of First congregational Church

In the beginning, the act of joining First Congregational Church had three parts. First, the people who wanted to join would publicly assent to three points:

You now solemnly promise in the presence of God and these witnesses to receive the Lord Jehovah as your God and portion forever; the Lord Jesus Christ as your Redeemer, Advocate, and Judge; the Holy Spirit as Sanctifier, Comforter, and Guide.

You solemnly covenant and engage that for the remainder of your life you will strive by divine assistance to live soberly, righteously, and Godly in this present evil world, carefully avoiding every known sin, and endeavoring as much as is within you to conform your life to the law of God.

You solemnly covenant and promise that you will strive to walk with this church in the observance of all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless, that you will cheerfully submit to and aid in administering that discipline, which Christ requires his churches to maintain in his name; receiving reproof with meekness and administering it with fidelity and affection, that will labor to promote the peace, order, security, and constant spiritual enlargement of this branch of Zion so long as live, unless your connection be regularly severed.

Next, the entire congregation would vote on whether to accept those people as members.

Finally, the congregation would assent to its part of the covenant:

We now, the members of this church, do solemnly and affectionately receive you into our communion and fellowship. We promise to watch over you in love, to joy in your joy and sorrow in your sorrows, to do all in our power to promote your spiritual edification and comfort, and your final meeting for the interchange of the saints in light. May you and we obtain grace to maintain our covenant vows inviolate and continue through to honor God with that holiness which becometh His house forever.

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