A Brief History of College Hill Community Church, Presbyterian (U.S.A.) 1944-2020
The Early Years
During the holiday season of 1943, J. Wiley Prugh was asked to return to his native Dayton, upon completion of his divinity training at Pittsburg-Xenia Theological Seminar, and gather interested neighbors to hold College Hill Community Church’s (CHCC) first worship service on September 10, 1944 in Fairview High School.In October, 1945 an architect drew up plans for the permanent home of CHCC. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on April 4, 1948 and the cornerstone was laid in June. With 192 members, the first service was held in the new building on Palm Sunday, April 10, 1949. Throughout the 1950s the congregation continued to grow and the church flourished. In January 1953, Rev. Prugh left for graduate study and Rev. John McCreight became the new pastor. In the fall of 1955 an educational unit was added to the church building and a new parking lot was constructed. By 1956, membership had grown to 650.
Neighborhood Transition, Church Decline, and A Leap of Faith
Around 1964, the general area surrounding the church was beginning to see some changes. Personnel from Wright Patterson Air Force Base and from other government-related agencies moved in and out frequently, and the neighborhood also saw an increase in the number of black residents. As many white residents moved out of the neighborhood, church membership declined sharply and the church budget decreased significantly. The church struggled to adapt to the changing neighborhood. Many members had moved out of the neighborhood and thought it best to close the doors and relocate the church to the suburbs. Others wanted to stay and welcome their new neighbors into the church family.
In October 1957, Rev. Orville Roth became pastor until 1959. In April 1960, Rev. Jerry Bohn became pastor until the Fall of 1964. Now the neighborhood began to see demographic changes with an increase of African-American residents. Rev. Richard Cassel became Associate Pastor in November, 1964. Rev. Dave Campbell became pastor in January 1965 but suffered ill health and left in 1967. Church membership declined and the church continued struggling with the neighborhood change. Rev. Richard Ainsworth became pastor in 1969 and in November 1970 the Congregation accepted his resignation. At the same Congregational Meeting, Session moved CHCC be closed. That motion failed by a
four-vote margin (54-58), thus keeping College Hill and its ministry alive.
1970s through 2000
Dr. Edward Kingsbury served as Interim Minister for 18 months. A Feb 1971 congregational retreat suggested a “dual ministry” and 7 months later CHCC announced it would seek a biracial ministry to demonstrate commitment to the changing community and to racial reconciliation. In September 1972, after a long and arduous search, Rev. Kent Organ, a white pastor, was called to lead the congregation. In 1975 Rev Organ took the position as part time to allow for a part-time Black pastor to make the biracial ministry team. A cooperative agreement was established with the United Church of Christ and Rev. Robert E. Jones was called on April 3, 1977, at last achieving our dual ministry! The membership of 185, 35% African-American, continued to develop an energizing Outreach Program. Their efforts to help achieve a peaceful desegregation of the Dayton Public School system brought the church positive attention and attracted new members committed to creating a “Racial Rainbow Church”.
In January 1981, Rev. Lorrie Rowland was called as a white co-pastor and Christian Education Director. In October 1981, Rev. David Hernandez was installed as an Assistant Pastor to develop a ministry to Dayton area Hispanics. In 1985 both Rev Rowland and Rev Hernandez left CHCC. So in 1986, Rev. Jones became full- time pastor and in 1987, Rev Karen Johnson was hired as Associate Pastor. By 1988 membership had grown to 255—larger than it had been since 1970 with 51% Black, 46% White, 5% Asian and 1% Hispanic.
In 1989-90, outreach ministries expanded as CHCC became a hot meal site and a homeless shelter with Interfaith Hospitality Network. In 1991 CHCC became a convening congregation with Leaders for Equality and Action in Dayton (LEAD). In 1993 the Presbyterian Men began mentoring boys from Cornell Heights School and added an after=school tutorial program. Pastor Johnson became part time and Rev. Mark Tyler became Youth Ministry Director.
1994-1997 continued expansion and change. The Dayton Urban Ministry Center was started to serve, rebuild and empower an impoverished neighborhood. Under the leadership of Pastor Jones and members of the congregation, they created an exemplary model of ecumenical and community collaboration with other churches and community agencies. Other pastoral changes occurred from 1996 to 1998 when Pastor Karen Johnson left and Rev. Robert Smith took over as half-time Interim Associate Pastor, followed by Rev. Bradley Sidle as Associate Pastor until 1998. In 1997, as an outgrowth of previous mission relationships, CHCC developed a partnership with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ghana. During that time, the church raised funds for a children’s hospital, which was built and in operation until staffing was no longer available. Rev. Walter Stuber, who was Associate Pastor in 1999, started Young Men of Valor. He left in 2002 as our membership grew to 308 (67% African-American, 31% White and 2% Asian).
Swinging the Doors Wider to Welcome More New Faces
In 2006, Rev. Francisco Pelaez Diaz, with the support of the Presbytery of the Miami Valley, founded our Hispanic Ministry. In 2012, Rev. Pelaez left to further his education at Princeton University, and Elder José Lamont Jones continues this ministry. A sister church relationship with the Presbyterian Church in Cartagena, Colombia was established in 2012, in conjunction with the Presbytery of the Miami Valley’s Partnership with the Presbyterian Church of the North Coast of Colombia.
As of 2013 our beloved pastor, Rev. Dr. Robert E. Jones retired after a dedicated, inspired and inspiring thirty-seven years of service. Rev. John Zuercher followed as Interim Pastor until the fall of 2016 when the congregation unanimously called Rev. Dr. Darryll Young as pastor. At that point the congregation had 140 members.
In 2017, College Hill’s Hispanic inclusiveness continued to evolve with a bi-lingual worship service aided by the leadership and Spanish translation of Elder Jose’ Lamont Jones. Spanish classes are taught once a week by Elder Jones, and are attended by a diverse group. In addition, a Spanish song is presented weekly by our Hispanic Choir allowing the whole congregation to join together in praise.
College Hill has also reached beyond our shores to build a relationship with the Presbyterian church in Cartagena, Colombia. Pastor Darryll Young visited Colombia twice and residents of Cartegena have visited us in return as we work together as members of Christ’s family. Rev. Dr. Young retired in 2019 for medical reasons, and College Hill Community Church was left leaderless.
2020 and into the Future
While faced with finding a new pastor, the world became faced with COVID19-a pandemic that closed many states for many months while the virus was brought under control. For the first time College Hill closed its doors and began worship on-line via live-stream and/or pre-recorded worship services on Facebook. Even during this time or social isolation, College Hill was successful in being lead by God to Rev. Dr. Merritt Worthen who preached her first sermon on July 6th. Rev. Dr. Merritt Worthen took the creative step to have outside worship, with the congregation remaining in their cars in the parking lot. It has worked wonderfully and helps us feel togetherness during this time of social distancing.
In 1983, under the leadership of Pastor Jones, College Hill Community Church organized the first Habitat for Humanity chapter in the state of Ohio.
Summary of recent issues and engagement…L.E.A.D. and the opposition to I-675 and the fight for RTA bus stops in Beavercreek. Peace Museum, Crop Hunger Walk, Welcome Dayton, others…
In 1997, the church developed a partnership with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ghana and the church is currently developing a relationship with the Presbyterian Church in Cartagena, Colombia.
Ruth Pressley saw a need in the community surrounding College Hill, and decided to do something about it. In 1994, with Ruth’s leadership, College Hill began a new outreach ministry called The Dayton Urban Ministry Center serving the residents of the western sector of the neighborhood. Today, the Urban Ministry Center is an independent non-profit organization, but still provides after school and tutoring programs, and a community garden. A new community led program called “Otterbein Neighborhood Association” has now been formed.
Sometimes taking faithful action means suffering serious consequences as result. Member John Ewers (now deceased) spent 6 months in a federal prison as a result of his acts of non-violent civil disobedience to protest the continued operation of the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, GA. The S.O.A. was responsible for training some of the most brutal dictators and human rights offenders in Latin American history.
But, sometimes fighting social injustice requires nothing more than taking time to make friends with your neighbors. As red-lining and block-busting became rampant in the early 1970’s, unscrupulous real estate agents went door-to-door in NW Dayton trying to convince people to sell their homes. In response, members of College Hill Church went door-to-door too…encouraging their neighbors to stay. At one congregational meeting, long time member Otis Henderson reminded us of that door-to-door campaign. He then challenged us to get back out into the neighborhood and learn how we can make difference in the struggles our neighbors are facing today. His call to action rings true to our history and identity.
As we look to the future, we can certainly benefit from a look back at our past. Our unique history teaches us that breaking down barriers, really getting to know our neighbors, and taking action to fight injustice and sow peace wherever we can…are not only what God calls us to do…they are the very things that make the church flourish.