DECATUR — Music moves people in ways words cannot.

That’s why it’s been an integral part of worship for decades at Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and for more than 10 years has been an important outreach as well.

Springing from a longstanding partnership with Millikin University’s music programs, the church offers an annual sanctuary concert series showcasing outside performers.

Some have come to Decatur from as far away as England, including organ virtuoso D’Arcy Trinkwon in 2003 and the Choir of Clare College in 2005. The current series concludes May 12 with a performance by internationally acclaimed pianist Aldo Mancinelli.

“Music gets to the soul, so it’s important to give the musical arts as much opportunity as possible,” said Don Martin, the church’s minister of music.

The history of how Central Christian Church came to double as a community performance center probably starts with the design of its current building, built in 1955. Those efforts got a boost in 1992, however, when the congregation chose the Rev. Charles Watkins as its senior minister.

Watkins came to Decatur from First Christian Church in Owensboro, Ky., where an ongoing tradition was for a portion of the community’s symphony orchestra to perform during one of the church’s Advent services before Christmas.

Michael Luxner discovered that when he became that symphony’s director in 1986.

“On Symphony Sunday, the people would be in their seats before the prelude and stay until the postlude concluded then burst into applause,” Luxner recalls. “It felt as much like a concert as it did a worship service.”

Watkins also oversaw renovations to make the Owensboro sanctuary a better performance space and, once in Decatur, wound up establishing an Advent/symphony tradition at Central Christian Church after Luxner became music director and conductor of the Millikin-Decatur Symphony Orchestra in 1996.

This year’s “symphony Sunday” at Central will be Dec. 16.

In 2002, Watkins spearheaded renovations that opened up Central’s chancel, replaced its carpeting with ceramic tile and made its furnishings moveable.

Luxner, along with Millikin’s Director of Choir Programs Brad Holmes, were among community musicians who were delighted with the changes.

“Central Christian Church has been an unbelievable partner,” Holmes said. “Our choral program has literally flourished there.”

Watkins, who retired in 2010, said he always wanted guests performers and their families to enjoy being in the church building but insists that the love his Owensboro and Decatur congregations have for music was the real driving force.

“Accomplishments with music ministry are done with the support of the people,” he said.

Martin added that former organist Leslie Peart also initiated many memorable organ concerts during his tenure at Central Christian Church from 1997 through 2009. Also working on this was church member Carol Graham of Forsyth.

The Rev. Michael Karunas, the church’s senior minister since March, said the tradition of musical excellence at Millikin University and at the church is impressive and one that’s easy to continue.

“It’s clear Decatur has some incredibly strong musical talent,” he said. “It’s nice to work together to make that available to the community.”


WHAT: Central Christian Church Sanctuary Concert Series

UPCOMING: Millikin University Choirs Fall Concert 2 and 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28; organist Sarah Hawbecker 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11; Decatur Youth Symphony 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 26; members of the Millikin-Decatur Symphony Orchestra 8:15 and 10:45 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 16; organist Scott Montgomery 7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 31.

WHERE: Central Christian Church, 650 W. William St.


FOR MORE: Visit or call 428-4336.

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