100 Years of Love and Diversity – Riverside Avenue Christian Church

100 Years of Love and Diversity – Riverside Avenue Christian Church
Riverside Avenue Christian Church circa 1950’s

This year, Riverside Avenue Christian Church (RACC) celebrates a century of sharing love and respecting diversity.

Each Sunday morning, Reverend Erin Dicky offers a benediction with these words: “Go and remember that you are a beloved child of God.” That attitude started with Dr. Charles W. Ross who founded the church in 1921—in a tent—on the corner of Post and King Streets.

By 1922, the congregants met in a bungalow, the first building on Riverside and Cherry Streets with 116 charter members. Historian Patricia Knowles, who grew up in the church and whose mother joined in 1934, can lead a walk through the church’s history that pictorially lines several walls the 100-year-old establishment that has influenced the community in the past and continues to shape the future.

The Knowles 1940’s
The Knowles 1940’s

On display as part of the “One Decade at a Time” exhibit is the 1942 wedding photo of Swan and Melvin Knowles, the parents of Patricia. By the time they married, congregation membership had grown to nearly 600. In a glass case near that photo is a silk banner made by the hands of congregants in dedication to the men and women who served in the armed forces. There are other photos, too—one of each pastor who had served throughout the years, of notable Jacksonville founding families, of newspaper articles, and of other interesting artifacts and recognitions from the many organizations with which the church has partnered over the past 10 decades.

Groundbreaking for the present structure began on March 11, 1957, and RACC exchanged sanctuaries, parking lots, and other spaces with the Jewish Congregation Ahavath Chesed on Riverside Avenue during each of the two churches’ various building phases.

After some demolishing and rebuilding in the 1990s, the Charlie Bennett Playground was established and named for a long-time member, Congressman Charles E. Bennett of the U.S House of Representatives. Open to everyone in the neighborhood, the playground often serves as a catalyst for people to join the church community. This was especially so during the COVID-19 pandemic when locals would bring their children to play and then stay for the outdoor sermon service.

In 2000, the church became a recognized open and affirming ministry that welcomes everyone. They celebrate the love of God and the diversity of humanity. This legacy church promotes the teachings of Christ by “Witnessing, Loving, and Serving from our doorsteps to the ends of the Earth,” as their website proclaims, taking the biblical command from Acts 1:8. It is RACC’s mission to let people know, “God Loves you – No Exceptions!”

The affiliations and outreach of RACC touch every aspect of the community, including  Girl and Boy Scouts, Downtown Ecumenical Service Council food collections, Super Bowl of Caring, Justice Coalition, Stephen Ministry, West Riverside children’s enrichment programs, the Children’s Art Center, mission trips, holiday celebrations, and Gay Pride Parade participation. Janet Novick, Administrator and Director of Children’s Ministries, remarked that the Keep Open Minds Book Club offers scripture-based dialogues on various issues, including race, to “keep the conversation alive.” RACC continues to move forward and use their programs “to lighten somebody’s load,” to be a place where all people can feel safe, to celebrate the love of God and the diversity of humanity.  

Novick reported that upcoming RACC events include a July 11 Science Fest with family fun activities starting at 12:15 p.m. and the November 14 100th Anniversary Celebration. The community is invited to join in the festivities. Past members or individuals with memories or photos can email them to [email protected]. More information on upcoming centennial events is available at www.jaxdisciples.com.

By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

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