We are part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada and of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Florida. This is a denomination that is congregational in structure and that strongly encourages involvement by lay people, men and women, at every level of the church’s ministry. Ocoee Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has been a congregation since 1883 and has worshiped in the same sanctuary since 1891.
Ocoee Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) began in the home of Gen. and Mrs. William Temple Withers, just a bit north of the present church, in 1883. The Withers family had bought land on Lake Starke and built a home here because of Gen. Withers’ health. He had been badly injured as a young officer during the Mexican War. Later he served as a Confederate artillery commander during the Civil War. Withers was from Kentucky and had been active in the Christian Church there and was eager to have a Christian Church near his new home, which was primarily used during the winter months.
In 1889, Gen. and Mrs. Withers made plans for the building of a church building on land donated by Capt. and Mrs. Bluford Sims whose home was just across the street from the church lot. However, before the building could begin, Gen. Withers died in Kentucky. His widow and children decided to continue the plans for building the church, designed by an architect from Boston.By 1891, the Gothic sanctuary was raised and the congregation began holding regular worship services in their new facility.
The sanctuary has a floor plan similar to that of the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe, on a much smaller scale. The sanctuary consists of a nave (where the congregation is seated), a transept (side areas with pews also) and a chancel (pulpit, baptistery, and choir), forming a room in the shape of a cross. The windows are all stained glass. The chancel windows, dedicated as a memorial to Gen. William T. Withers, were designed and made in Belgium, shipped to New York and then reshipped to Jacksonville. From there, the windows traveled to Sanford on the St. Johns River and from there to Ocoee by oxcart. A glass artisan from Belgium accompanied the windows, installed them in the new church, and returned to his home. While there is no documentation as proof, tradition in the church says that the stained glass in the nave and transept windows came from the Tiffany studios. The church’s bell, still rung each Sunday and on many other occasions, was made by the Shane Bell Foundry in Baltimore, MD for this church in 1891.
In 1997, Ocoee Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was added to the National Register of Historic Sites.