Our History & Our Heritage By Bill Kiefer

Are we religious? I think most people in Hancock and Brooke Counties, as well as the corresponding border counties in Ohio and Pennsylvania would call themselves Christians. When it comes to Hancock and Brooke the number of our residents who profess to being adherents of Islam or being Jewish, is I believe rather small. However, this is a time of year when most of us at least are touched, well maybe some more than others, by Religion. This is a season of holidays for these three faiths which arose in the Middle East. Passover and Catholic and Protestant Easter have just ended, and Ramadan is beginning. With that in mind, it is possible to notice the plethora of indications of Christianity in our communities right now. The traditional “He Is Risen” signs dot yards and church properties. Also seen are crosses draped with purple. Orthodox Easter and Western Church Easter are separated by several weeks this year, so it will be a while until one dials a friend and instead of hearing “hello,” hears “Christos Anesti,” Greek for “Christ Is Risen.”
Even though our region may be somewhat lacking in Jewish and Muslim residents and their places of worship. It wasn’t always so. I can remember active synagogues in Weirton, Steubenville and East Liverpool. However, the sheer variety of Christian Churches is staggering. In a drive around Hancock County, one sees churches for Catholics and mainline Protestants: Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists, Episcopalians, etc. Then there are the Orthodox Christian Churches most frequently known by their ethnic identity, like the Greek Orthodox Churches in Weirton, Steubenville and other communities, or the Serbian Orthodox Church in Steubenville, the formerly Russian Orthodox Churches in the valley. Some churches are more purposefully named like The Church of the Nazarene, The Church of God, The Church of Christ, or just The Christian Church. Finally there are churches with names like The Rock, the Vineyard, New Life, etc.
I tend to classify these Christian movements into four general groups. Orthodox are identified with an ethnic group, although to me their services, beliefs and practices are the same, while the language of the service may differ in part from church to church. The second group, which is likely the largest represents imports from Europe. I wrote about Nessley Chapel and the Methodist Christian Church a few weeks ago, which touched on the English origins of Methodism. The last group may in each case be one or more congregations without a hierarchy, and is more locally based. Then there are the groups that began in America, usually as splinters from a “Mainline” Protestant denomination: Nazarenes, Disciples, Christians Church of God, etc.
This is not going to be a column about anyone’s individual beliefs or a debate concerning same or even Christianity itself. I think that Jeremy Alger, with whom I share this page does a fine job of that. However, as this is a history column I thought that it was about time to write in some depth about the group that owes much of its legacy to our local region: The Disciples of Christ, Christian Church and Church of Christ. Churches with these names are quite common in our region, and rightly so as they owe much of their beginnings to the events of the early 1800’s in Washington County, PA and Brooke County WV. Their early members were sometimes called “Campbellites.” Some refer to the movement as the “Stone-Campbell Movement.”
Thomas Campbell was born in 1763 in County Down, Ireland, a part of Ireland that was then, and remains today a part of the United Kingdom. He was raised an Anglican, which we would refer to as Church of England or Episcopalian. He attended the University of Glasgow in Scotland. He married at age twenty-four to Jane Corneigle, a woman of French Huguenot background. Their son Alexander Campbell was born on September 12, 1798. Thomas Campbell became a preacher and farmer in Ireland. Alexander received his early education at a school in Ahorey, Ireland conducted by his Uncles, Enos Campbell and Archibald Campbell. In about 1814, Thomas Campbell established a school at Rich Hill, at which Alexander studied prepatory to his entry to the University of Glasgow. For health reasons Thomas Campbell was sent to America in 1817. He found the new land to be so agreeable that he decided to stay and sent for his family.
As fate would have it, the vessel on which the family sailed was shipwrecked. Despairing of rescue son Alexander sat on a piece of the ship to reflect and pray. He promised God that if saved he would devote himself wholly to His service and spend his life in the preaching of the Word. As one might surmise a rescue occurred. It being late in the year no further attempt to cross the Atlantic would occur. So Alexander undertook studies at the University of Glasgow, prior to leaving for America. Meanwhile, Thomas, attempted to further establish himself in America.