The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Ken Graham
The Times 

Congregational Church Celebrates 140 Years

Congregationalists have been worshiping here since Dayton's first decade


September 21, 2017

Courtesy Photo

The Dayton First Congregational Church in the early 20th Century, before the education building was built.

DAYTON – Members and friends of the Dayton First Congregational Church held a celebration following last Sunday's service to honor the 140th anniversary of the church's founding. The historic Rev. Cushing Eells bell in the church's steeple was rung during worship.

The Congregational Church is one of Dayton's first churches. According to a history provided by church officials, a group of Congregationalists began meeting in Dayton in 1877, led by Rev. E.W. Allen, a local farmer. This was only a decade after the first white settlers reached the area, and four years before the city's incorporation.

The group secured their first building the next year, on a site near where City Lumber stands today.

In 1890, the Rev. S.B.L. Penrose arrived in town to lead the church, and within four years the membership rose to over 100 people. During his short tenure, Penrose organized study groups, a choir, which he led, played the organ, and started a women's group known for over 100 years as Halpine Service Society, which was attended by many women of the community as well. In 1894, Penrose left a healthy church to become Whitman College President. He served in this capacity for forty years.

The site of the present church, at 214 S. Third St., was purchased in 1903, and the main church building was constructed soon after. The education wing was added in 1956.

In the early 1960s Dayton First Congregational church joined the United Church of Christ, which had formed in 1957 when the Congregational and Christian denominations merged with the Evangelical and Reformed churches. The local church continues to identify as First Congregational Church-United Church of Christ.

The church has been led by a long list of community-minded pastors. In the 1980s, the Rev. Bill Graham organized and led the committee that restored the historic Columbia County Courthouse. In the early 2000s, after his retirement, Graham served as Dayton's mayor for eight years.

The Rev. Steve Edwards served as the church's pastor in the 1990s and 2000s. He also was a founder and leader of the Touchet Valley Arts Council, and directed and acted in many of its fall musicals.

The Church's current pastor, Marj Johnston, continues the tradition of community leadership. She serves as head of the Coalition for Youth and Families in the Touchet Valley, and volunteers for many other organizations.

The First Congregational Church membership has a long history of outreach, both within and outside the Dayton community. These activities include:

Education, community service and social justice

Disaster Relief

Camp Ministry

Community Choir

Vacation Bible School

Dayton Food Bank

Hosting meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Rebekkahs, Skyline Juniors, a grief support group, and many other groups needing a place to meet.


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