In some respects, West Main Street Christian Church hasn’t changed much since Hezekiah Hankal founded it as one of Johnson City’s first “colored” churches in 1869.
“The fact that the church has been continuous since 1869 is something that we’re really proud of,” said Jeff Douds, who’s been the church’s pastor for more than three decades.
In 1972, however, that continuity almost ended.
Despite surviving Reconstruction, the Jim Crowera, the Civil Rights movement and everything in between, it was a coal furnace left unattended that almost brought about the church’s end.
Fortunately, the building had been rebuilt with brick 17 years earlier, and the fire only caused some internal damage — damage the community rallied to repair. Enough money was raised to not only repair the inside, but remodel the basement and add a kitchen, too.
“I feel like I’m a part of something that is a whole lot bigger than I am,” Douds said. “A lot of people have come to the Lord through the church over many generations.
“In a way, it’s very humbling to be a part of that,” Douds added.
The church also held the city’s second school for “colored” children, and is the oldest school and church building still standing in the city — regardless of race. On the property sit two state historical markers, one noting the church’s history, and another recognizing the impact Hankal had on Johnson City’s history.
And with the building having so much history, it makes for a unique, and “awesome experience.”
“It’s a great atmosphere with great people,” said congregant Michael Humphreys. “I just love the church, the people — everything.
“It’s just awesome; it feels great to sit in a historical church,” Humphreys added.
To celebrate their milestone, the church will hold a special service Sunday, along with food. For more information, call the church at 423-929-0905.
“I feel like I get to be a part of history,” of Douds said. “I’m a white guy, and I’ve learned so much. My experience at the church has changed me dramatically — it’s absolutely made me a better person and I appreciate that.”