Rocklane Christian Church opens new worship space on 175th anniversary

In 1846, a small community of 44 people in the northwest corner of Johnson County gathered together for the first time to practice their faith.

The 15 small families living in what was known as Clarksburg desired a place to worship together. So a preacher took turns visiting family homes or the local schoolhouse for services, gathering more and more members over time.

From those modest beginnings, a legacy was born.

“This church has been around for 175 years, and has depended on nothing other than the Lord,” said Seth Amerine, lead pastor of Rocklane Christian Church. “There’s no ordinance, no grant, nothing keeping it alive but its congregation.”

This year, Rocklane Christian Church celebrated its 175th anniversary. The occasion proved an opportunity for current members of the still-thriving church to look at its history and the impact it has made in the northern part of Johnson County over all those years.

At the same time, it’s a chance to look toward the future. Rocklane will hold the first service in its newly constructed worship space on Sunday, which will accommodate the existing congregation while allowing the church to grow with new families.

“It’s been our church all of our lives, and we’re never going to leave it,” said Steve Dougherty, a lifelong member of the church. “We’re in a great location, and that area is growing constantly. So we’re in a really good place.”

Dougherty’s family has been a part of the church since the early 1900s. His mother carried him to his first services when he was a baby, and he and his siblings and cousins grew up in the church.

He and his wife, Elaine, have been married for 50 years, and have been going to the church that entire time. Their daughter was involved in youth classes throughout her life. Dougherty has served as an elder, taught Sunday school, and both he and Elaine have served as youth ministers at the church.

The focus on young people is one of the aspects that defines the church, he said.

“Our youth program is one of the best programs we have,” he said. “A lot of older churches now, they don’t have much of a youth program. But every time we’ve built on, it’s been for the youth.”

Rocklane Christian Church was born on April 4, 1846, and was known at the time as Clarksburg Christian Church. Though members met together in homes and the Leatherwood schoolhouse at first, leadership was focused on creating a worship space specifically for the church.

A member named J.J. Dugan donated land for that first church building — the same location where the current church building stands. The first service in the new building was in 1850.

Clarksburg Christian Church continued to grow, and in 1879, a larger chapel project was completed. That chapel remains, and members use it for special events. The community of Clarksburg changed its name to Rocklane in 1867, but the church didn’t become Rocklane Christian Church until 1914.

By the 1920s, the congregation agreed the church needed a space for Sunday school classes. So underneath the chapel, workers dug out the basement to create a space for classrooms, as well as a kitchen.

An annex was constructed in the early 1950s, as the congregation donated money, as well as sold $1,200 worth of lima beans at the county fair to generate the money for the approximately $15,000 addition. About a decade later, the church was interested in building a children’s wing to educate the congregation’s young people. To fundraise for it, Rocklane created the farmer’s auction.

“They’d give an opportunity for farmers to bring in equipment and auction it off. They’d get money for it, but a portion would go to the church,” Amerine said. “Before we had to cancel it last year, it had gone on every year for 48 years.”

A gymnasium, which became known as the Family Life Center, was the most recent construction project at the church. For years, the church would host recreational sports and other activities in the gym.

Sara Banholzer started going to the church when she was just 7 years old, just after the Family Life Center opened. She remembers it being a huge event for the congregation.

“It was a small country church, but they had just built the center. That was a huge deal, to have that extra space and the gym and all of those classrooms,” she said.

Now 28, she has spent nearly her entire life in the church. She met her husband, Dustin, in youth group, and her children now go to services with them.

When the Banholzers’ son was born prematurely with some serious health conditions, the Rocklane community stepped forward to support them with whatever they needed — food, prayers, financial assistance and just checking in.

“It’s been a family affair,” she said. “It’s meant a lot to us. It’s our home, our second family. I can’t imagine going anyplace else.”

Banholzer has seen great growth in the church during their time there. As the congregation grew, it became too large for the original Rocklane chapel. So services were moved into the Family Life Center, which could better accommodate the hundreds of people who attend services each Sunday.

Church leaders took stock of Rocklane’s available space, and the needs they saw currently and coming in the future. Their children’s wing was already too small, and it would be nice to revert the Family Life Center into a recreation space again, Amerine said.

After much discussion, it was decided to embark on a project for both a new children’s wing and worship space.

“Not that I thought we needed to do a new worship center at that moment, but because I didn’t want whatever we did for the children’s wing to get in the way of a future worship center,” he said.

Amerine is the 66th preacher to lead Rocklane Christian Church, having come to the church six years ago. Even in that relatively short time, he has seen firsthand the values that define the institution.

“Every build and expansion was for kids. They dug out that basement for Sunday school classes. They added a children’s wing, they added a gymnasium. They’re always focused on the next generation. This church has always had a very vibrant ministry for children,” Amerine said.

Initially, a consultant the church worked with estimated they’d be able to bring in about $800,000 for the project over three years. The congregation exceeded that projection, generating $2 million for the project.

“That was breathtaking, all the while not slowing down and actually doing more in the community and overseas in mission work,” Amerine said. “We didn’t have to sacrifice one for the other.”

The new worship center is a spacious and adaptable area that can hold up to 700 people comfortably. Church leaders believe the entire congregation could worship together as one, instead of breaking up for separate services.

“We can have everybody together for a while,” Amerine said.

The project, which broke ground in 2018, will have its first service Sunday. The final cost of construction came to $6,262,000.

The new addition also features a café, where members can gather and chat before and after services, classrooms for the church’s various ministries and education classes, and a new space for its preschool.

The church had an open house between services Nov. 7, recognizing its 175th anniversary. Church historians had put old photographs, church directories, meeting minutes and other items of interest on tables for members to browse through.

They watched a video — originally an 8-millimeter filmstrip — created during Rocklane’s 125th anniversary.

“A lot of members saw themselves when they were kids, 50 years ago” Amerine said. “It was really just a chance to do something we really hadn’t been able to do for the past year and a half: sit down and eat cake and visit with each other. It was special.”