History of College Hill Church

We have been blessed with a unique history among churches in Dayton, and our denomination as a whole.  The story hasn’t always been pretty or easy, but each time the congregation has remained faithful to God’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves, the outcome has been blessed.

The Early Years

During the holiday season of 1943, Dr. Ray Davis, Synodical Superintendent of the Second Synod of the United Presbyterian Church, and Dr. Ronald E. Boyer, then pastor of the First United Presbyterian Church of Dayton, first conceived the idea of what was to become College Hill Community Church. They convinced a young seminarian, J. Wiley Prugh (a native Daytonian) then completing his divinity training in the Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to lead the “charge.” Prugh and a few other enthusiastic workers began ringing doorbells in the Cornell Heights area of Dayton Ohio. They succeeded in garnering interest, and services began in Fairview High School on September 10, 1944. 
Much of the area surrounding the church in 1944 was open land and home building was thriving. World War II had brought many young families into the area and church membership grew quickly. This was also a time of great church growth nationally. Services continued in the school until a permanent church home was built. The groundbreaking ceremony was held on April 4, 1948, and the first service was held in our present building on Palm Sunday, April 10, 1949. By this time there were 192 members of College Hill Church.
Throughout the 1950s the congregation continued to grow and the church flourished. In the fall of 1955 an educational unit was added to the church building and a new parking lot was constructed.

Neighborhood Transition, Church Decline, and A Leap of Faith

Around 1964, the general area surrounding the church was beginning to see some changes. Personnel from Wright Patterson Air Force Base and from other government-related agencies moved in and out frequently, and the neighborhood also saw an increase in the number of black residents.  As many white residents moved out of the neighborhood, church membership declined sharply and the church budget decreased significantly.
The church struggled to adapt to the changing neighborhood. Many members had moved out of the neighborhood and thought it best to close the doors and relocate the church to the suburbs. Others wanted to stay and welcome their new neighbors into the church family. 
The bottom line was that the church was dying. 
The situation came to a head in November of 1970. At a congregational meeting, Session moved that College Hill Church be closed. After much discussion, a congregational vote was taken. The motion failed by just four votes, 58-54. College Hill Church remained open and a new vision was born.
In 1971, the remaining College Hill Church congregation announced that it would seek a fully integrated ministry model with both black and white ministers serving the congregation. The goal was to become a church that is a “Racial Rainbow”. Kent Organ was called to College Hill Church in 1972, followed by Robert E. Jones as a half-time pastor in 1977. In 1986, Pastor Jones became the Senior Pastor of College Hill Church and served the congregation in that role until he retired in 2014.
College Hill Church was influential in achieving peaceful desegregation of the Dayton School System in 1976.

Swinging the Doors Wider to Welcome More New Faces

At the dawn of the new millennium, evidence of further change in the racial/ethnic composition of our neighborhood was becoming increasingly apparent.
While other churches employed a “nesting” model of ministry, College Hill once again committed to a fully integrated model.
A major commitment to this inclusiveness came with the bringing of Rev. Francisco Pelaez-Diaz, a Pastor from Mexico, to College Hill through a “Reconciliation and Mission” program and later Emerson Morales, a seminary student from Guatemala who came through the same program to continue the work that Francisco had begun. In January of 2006, College Hill Church landed on the front page of the Dayton Daily News with the headline: “Black, White, and now Hispanic”. You can read a reprint of the article here.
In the fall of 2006, Francisco returned to College Hill to fill the newly created position of Hispanic Missionary Pastor.  In 2012 Rev. Pelaez-Diaz left College Hill to pursue his Doctoral Degree at Princeton University.

In 2019, College Hill’s Hispanic inclusiveness continues to evolve  with a bi-lingual worship service aided by the leadership and Spanish translation of  Elder Jose’ Lamont Jones. Spanish classes are taught once a week by Elder Jones, and are attended by a diverse group.  In addition, a Spanish song is presented weekly by our Hispanic Choir allowing the whole congregation to join together in praise.  

College Hill has also reached beyond our shores to build a relationship with the Presbyterian church in Cartagena, Colombia.  Pastor Darryll Young has visited Colombia twice and residents of Cartegena have visited us in return as we work together as members of Christ’s family.

A History of Engagement and Action
In 1983, under the leadership of Pastor Jones, College Hill Church organized the first Habitat for Humanity chapter in the state of Ohio.
Summary of recent issues and engagement…L.E.A.D.  and the opposition to I-675 and the fight for RTA bus stops in Beavercreek.  Peace Museum, Crop Hunger Walk, Welcome Dayton, others…
In 1997, the church developed a partnership with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ghana and the church is currently developing a relationship with the Presbyterian Church in Cartagena, Colombia.
Ruth Pressley (mother of member Ruth Bragg) saw a need in the community surrounding College Hill, and decided to do something about it.  In 1994, with Ruth’s leadership, College Hill began a new outreach ministry called The Dayton Urban Ministry Center serving the residents of the western sector of the neighborhood. Today, the Urban Ministry Center is an independent non-profit organization, but still provides after school and tutoring programs, and a community garden.  A new community led program called “Otterbein Neighborhood Association” has now been formed.
Sometimes taking faithful action means suffering serious consequences as result. Member John Ewers (now deceased) spent 6 months in a federal prison as a result of his acts of non-violent civil disobedience to protest the continued operation of the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, GA. The S.O.A. was responsible for training some of the most brutal dictators and human rights offenders in Latin American history.
But, sometimes fighting social injustice requires nothing more than taking time to make friends with your neighbors. As red-lining and block-busting became rampant in the early 1970’s, unscrupulous real estate agents went door-to-door in NW Dayton trying to convince people to sell their homes. In response, members of College Hill Church went door-to-door too…encouraging their neighbors to stay.
At a recent congregational meeting focused on discerning our mission as we prepared to call a permanent pastor, long time member Otis Henderson reminded us of that door-to-door campaign. He then challenged us to get back out into the neighborhood and learn how we can make difference in the struggles our neighbors are facing today. His call to action rings true to our history and identity.
As we look to the future, we can certainly benefit from a look back at our past. Our unique history teaches us that breaking down barriers, really getting to know our neighbors, and taking action to fight injustice and sow peace wherever we can…are not only what God calls us to do…they are the very things that make the church flourish.