New church has historic roots

Contributed by E. Dianne Campbell

First Christian Church, formed in Charlottesville in 1835, has enfolded with Calvary Chapel Church of Fluvanna to create Calvary Chapel Keswick.  Though more than a century apart, the origins of the two churches are similar, as are their philosophies. 

At the time of First Christian’s establishment, it was considered almost heretical that believers should choose to form a church that was not a part of the known denominations of the time. Since then, many Christians now participate in separately governed churches such as the Calvary Chapel network of affiliated, yet separately governed, homes of worship.


First Christian’s inception came during the Restoration Movement in America when Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone called for believers to disassociate themselves from the tenants of established denominations with centralized hierarchical structures which had been developed in European countries.  They called for churches to recognize the Bible as the only authority and to organize their congregations following the pattern of the first churches established following the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The influence of their preaching inspired congregations calling themselves simply Christian Churches to be planted throughout the Eastern states and then through to the West as populations spread. 

The Bible and the Holy Spirit

Calvary Chapel emerged during the late 1960s and ‘70s as an outcome of what was called the “Jesus Movement Revival.”  The original church, Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, began as a nondenominational Bible study group meeting in the recreational room of a trailer park. It soon grew to a congregation with its own church building. Pastor Chuck Smith’s approach was an orderly study of the scriptures, thoughtfully progressing through the Bible to consider the meaning and applications that passages hold, and then moving on to the next section of verses. 

The structured approach both contrasted and complimented the charismatic street-preacher style of Lonnie Frisbee whom Smith welcomed into his home and church. Smith’s acceptance of long-haired, shaggy-bearded Frisbee embraced his growing following of disassociated hippies and surfers who made a decision for Lonnie Frisbee’s Jesus instead of Timothy Leary’s LSD. 

This Christian love and acceptance created baptism services for some 500 members at a time with immersion in the Pacific Ocean off Coronado, California. Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa became home base for the national spiritual awakening of the 1970’s and the thousands of young people dubbed “Jesus Freaks.”  As the young people wandered or returned home, their spiritual conviction and their involvement in Smith’s approach to Bible study led to the startup of new churches. The appreciation for in-depth study and reflection spread, and in today’s network of some 1700 Calvary Chapel churches located around the globe, there continues to be the orderly study of the Bible, close adherence to biblical principles, and a welcoming Christian embrace.

The foundation was set for the two principles that continue to be essential to the ministry of every Calvary Chapel:

The simple and systematic teaching of the entire Bible, verse-by-verse and chapter-by-chapter.

The belief in, and the need for, the empowerment of the Holy Spirit of God.

Growth on the edge of town

When the First Christian Church congregation purchased a lot for its church home on the southwest corner of First and Market Streets in Charlottesville, it was considered to be the “edge of town.” The first structure was completed in 1837 with seating for approximately 200. That structure was replaced in 1899 and in ensuing years several annexes were added to accommodate Bible school classes. First Christian’s congregation numbered close to 800 people at its height. It birthed a new congregation which became Cherry Avenue Christian Church where services have been held since December 1954. 

But the church’s edge of town was evolving to busy downtown Charlottesville, with the now-familiar challenge of parking. This discouragement eroded attendance, but expenses continued, and the congregation was faced with the financial reality of no longer being able to maintain the large traditional structure. The church building was sold in February 2007, and is now home to The Haven Day Shelter.  For nearly two years the congregation met in the Stone-Robinson Elementary School while its new church home in Keswick was being constructed.

Fluvanna roots

The founding church of what is now Calvary Chapel Keswick is Calvary Chapel Fluvanna, located at 544 Stage Coach Hills Road, Palmyra. The Fluvanna church has a large and active congregation which includes many young families with children. It holds three services a week, plus a significant schedule of Bible study and social groups. A noteworthy community support program is their Home School Co-Op, a comprehensive academic program to support home-school families in the area. It encompasses pre-K through senior high school academics as well as electives and physical education, with classed offered on Mondays and Wednesdays. Kindergarten and First Grade classes are offered throughout the academic year, Monday through Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

Pastor Matt Basinger leads the congregation of the new Calvary Chaple Keswick. Sunday worship ser-vice is 11 a.m. with programs so far including Bible study classes Wednesday morning and evening, plus Sunday School for adults and children, a youth group, and men’s breakfast. Further programs are planned and will be announced soon.

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