As 2023 comes to a close, MMSC recognizes our churches and clergy who celebrated milestone anniversaries this past year. While it is tradition to offer congratulatory recognition at Conference Annual Gathering (CAG), the following offers more information about each 2023 milestone anniversary:
Milestone Church Anniversaries
St. John UCC, Casco, Leslie, MO
As many as 12 families began worshiping together in August 1848 after leaving Ebenezer Evangelical Lutheran Church. The congregation has had three church buildings. The first is a still-existing log structure, and the current church building was completed in 1936. Many ordained and licensed pastors and seminary students have faithfully served the church, with Pastor Max Bade currently providing pastoral leadership.
Through its mission statement “Jesus loves you, this we share,” the congregation supports a local food pantry, several Conference yearly initiatives, and Every Child’s Hope. The congregation also hosts occasional community gatherings and participates in the Eastern Association Grape Cluster activities. In 2023, two confirmands completed their studies to receive congregational membership.
St. Paul UCC, St. Louis, MO
Twelve families organized Oct. 23, 1848 into the third Evangelical congregation in St. Louis, naming it St. Paul’s. Meeting regularly for worship in a rented home, the families were led spiritually by the church’s first pastor Rev. Adolph Baltzer. Growing rapidly that first year, the congregation purchased land at Ninth Street and Lafayette Avenue for a permanent church building. Construction began in March 1849, with a Feb. 17, 1850 dedication of the new church costing $4,444.
St. Paul’s prospered during the first 25 years: installing a pipe organ in the church shortly before the Civil War; purchasing and consecrating the first cemetery on Gravois Road; erecting the first parsonage in 1866; purchasing and renovating a home south of the church into a two-room parochial school and residence for the teacher in 1872. Three years later, the growing congregation built a new, larger church costing $14,605 on its Ninth Street site.
When an F4 tornado swept through St. Louis May 27, 1896, leaving 255 dead, more than 1,000 injured, 5,000 homeless, more than $300 million (2019 dollars) in property damage, St. Paul’s was among the buildings destroyed. Only the southeast corner of the sanctuary remained standing. A third church was built costing $36,217 and dedicated in March 1897 on Palm Sunday.Soon after the turn of the century, the German community that formed the bulk of the congregation was moving south and west as emigrants from southern Europe not of Protestant faith were moving into the Ninth Street neighborhood.
In 1910, the congregation relocated St. Paul’s, establishing a branch church and Bible school in a vacant building at 3352 S. Grand Ave. Within a few months, the congregation purchased a new site at Giles Avenue and Potomac Street, dedicating a portable chapel July 9, 1911. In 1923, a church hall and education building were erected on this site followed by the pastor and his family moving into the new parsonage one year later.
In 1924, the Ninth Street property sold for $37,000 to a Slovak Roman Catholic congregation, with St. Paul’s celebrating its last worship service at that location May 4, 1924. For the next eight years, the church hall auditorium served the church in lieu of a sanctuary.
With a building fund established in 1931, a new sanctuary costing $76,000 was dedicated May 15, 1932. As the fourth sanctuary built by St. Paul’s in 85 years, it was the largest and most ornate and won the Chamber of Commerce Better Building Award for the best ecclesiastical structure that year. The debt on the new structure was paid off by the 100th anniversary in 1948, with a large celebration and dinner held at Kiel Auditorium.
When The Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches united in 1957 to form the United Church of Christ, the church’s name became St. Paul UCC. Subsequent St. Paul UCC projects included the construction of a superintendent’s home at the St. Paul Churchyard and renovation of the kitchen and dining room. The church’s 120th anniversary in 1968 saw the renovation and enlargement of the sanctuary organs. Four years later, a major gift purchased a set of 49 Schulmerich handbells. Current pastor Rev. Thomas J. Ressler was called to St. Paul in 2007.
Salem UCC, McGirk, MO
Salem organized in April 1848. The first church built of logs in 1851 was called the North Moreau Evangelical Church, serving as a German school until 1858 when the current church was built and dedicated. Although the current church has been remodeled many times, the main frame and roof trusses are still the original hand-hewn timbers.
The congregation encountered many difficulties at first, but was able to call a pastor, Rev. Carl Hoffmeister, at a salary of $100 per year with the help of The American Home Missionary Society of New York. He also served other churches and traveled by horseback. Until 1889, the pastor at Salem supplied both California, Mo. and Salem, Mo. churches, living in the Salem parsonage. Since 1922 when the last resident pastor Rev. Paul Niedermeyer left, it reversed with the California, Mo. pastor also supplying Salem, Mo. More than 20 pastors have served Salem through the years.
In 1947, each family cut and donated oak logs to be made into pews. In 1948, a basement was built and modern utilities added. With former pastors, members, and friends coming from many states, about 1,000 people observed the 1948 centennial at services, a dinner, and an evening presentation of an historical pageant written by Kathryn Lammert Royse. In 1958, the church had the antique kerosene chandeliers hanging in the sanctuary renovated and converted to electricity.
Through the years, Salem has contributed to many missions, including Every Child’s Hope, Neighborhood Houses, Indian Mission, Blue Springs Retired Minsters’ Home, Our Church’s Wider Mission (OCWM), Shannondale, Neighbors in Need, Heifer Project, Harvest Home Festival, Festival of Sharing, American Red Cross, Fulton State Hospital, Ronald McDonald House, and Salvation Army.
With a perpetual care fund, Salem maintains a church cemetery, which was established in 1848. The first grave was for Rev. Hoffmeister’s young son Hilmer who died in 1850. Each Memorial Day, the church honors veterans by placing American flags and flowers on their graves.
Salem continues to observe memorial and mission days each year and support charitable programs. An annual ice cream social brings friends and former members together for fellowship. “Salem continues to be a beacon of light for those who love the Lord. May God continue to bless all those who enter into this humble dwelling.”
Columbia UCC, Columbia, MO
Professor H. H. Krusekopf from the University of Missouri School of Agriculture was instrumental in gathering German Evangelical students and faculty together. He attended an Evangelical Church back home. In 1921, he held prayer meetings, hosted speakers, and led worship services both in his home and on campus. The group formally organized Jan. 23, 1923, calling themselves “The Evangelical Club” as a mission of the Evangelical Synod of North America (one of the predecessor bodies of the UCC) providing college ministry in Columbia, Mo.
The Evangelical Club grew, asking for a permanent pastor. The Evangelical Synod sent Eden Seminary graduate Ralph Abele to serve part-time while doing graduate work at Mizzou. During his two years in Columbia, he led the group in planning for the future. In 1927, the next pastor Waldo Berlecamp instituted two Sunday services: one in the morning and one in the evening for discussions about social issues, guest speakers, and vespers.
Sunday evening discussions, while sometimes controversial, included educational topics of the situation in Europe, politics, city planning, and social justice and prominent speakers from many places. A social action group, “The Fellowship of the Concerned,” formed and grew quickly, with the involved students choosing the subjects, lining up the speakers, and leading the discussions.
In 1926, the congregation discerned a need for their own building to help serve students, faculty, and residents, and started a Building Fund, but a facility was not constructed until 1933 on Hitt Street. With the chapel’s dedication Feb. 11, 1933, the Evangelical Club officially changed its name to “The Chapel.”
In 1939, Rev. Harold Wilke was called as pastor. Born without arms, Rev. Wike faced discrimination his entire life. At first, the Evangelical and Reformed Church was hesitant to ordain him, claiming a pastor without arms could not consecrate elements in the Sacrament of Communion. He showed them – he did just fine consecrating the elements with his feet! He would go on to head the UCC Disabilities Ministry. Instrumental in passing the Americans with Disabilities Act, he was present when President George Bush signed the ADA into law in 1990.
With the war on everyone’s mind in the 1940s, Chapel records reveal several members went on record as Conscientious Objectors. In 1942, first overtures were made to the Congregational Christian Churches to enter into The Chapel program with the Evangelical and Reformed Churches. The union become official in 1944, 13 years before the UCC merger. Frederick Stoerker became pastor of The Chapel in 1943. He and his wife, Mildred, came to Columbia to continue The Chapel program. In 1943, a group gathered to make toys for Japanese children interred in U.S. detention camps. The Chapel Guild also gathered clothes and material for overseas relief. Another group collected $100 toward scholarships for Japanese students.
During the 1950s, the congregation was growing and needing more space. With constant food, fun, and fellowship happening, the Evangelical and Reformed Synod and Congregational Christian Conference of Missouri endorsed an expansion plan. In 1950, blueprints were drawn and submitted to contactors, with Phillips Construction Co. submitting a $28,000 estimate for the new educational wing of The Chapel.
During the 1960s, Rev. Herb Gessert was the new minister at the start of this decade. He and his family lived in the parsonage next door to The Chapel. In 1961, Rev. Bill Kerr was called as Associate Minister to focus on campus ministry, while Rev. Gessert worked with the residential groups. Working together, the two pastors led the congregation in taking mission trips to St. Louis to work at Caroline Mission and on retreats at Shannondale. In 1963, they entered into a campus ministry program with five other denominations.
Fire damaged the Sanctuary Dec. 30, 1965. The building did not burn to the ground, but incurred a tremendous amount of smoke and water damage. With the congregation at a crossroads on whether to rebuild or relocate, many thought they should stay on Hitt Steet to be available to the students while others thought they should move to another property. A donation of five acres west of Columbia from Madeline and Merle Muhrer made the decision clear, and the congregation voted May 25, 1966 to move to the donated land. Since a number of families disagreed with the decision and left the church, it was a bittersweet time for the congregation.
Rev. Gessert’s departure in 1966 brought the 1967 arrival of Rev. Jerry Jordan, who led the congregation from the “old” church to the “new round” church. Groundbreaking happened Palm Sunday, April 7, 1968; the cornerstone was laid Oct. 27, 1968 followed by the dedication Sept. 21, 1969 when the name of the congregation officially changed to Columbia UCC.
In the early 1970s, membership increased under Rev. Jerry Jordan’s leadership. He resigned March 21, 1973 to become pastor of a church in Colorado. In February 1974, Rev. Fred Brandenburg became the next pastor to remain for 30 years!
Starting the decade of the ‘90s with 381 members, the church needed more Sunday School classes and office space; a larger, more efficient kitchen; a music room; and storage space. At the 1992 annual meeting, a request was made to pursue church expansion. By May 1996, capital campaign pledges totaled $616,078. In August 1997, the Building Committee recommended accepting a bid for $875,000. In September 1998, groundbreaking occured on a new education wing, which was dedicated April 11, 1999 with 200 in attendance and Rev. Todd Hackman as guest speaker.
In 2002, a Little One’s Day Out preschool ministry program began. Continuing to thrive with 60+ students each week, this program has served thousands of children and families in the Columbia area for more than 20 years. In 2004, Rev. Brandenburg retired. The following years were a time of discernment and visioning for the church before calling Rev. Tom Nordberg and Rev. Steve Swope to serve.
In 2017, Rev. Richard Oberle became the church’s most recent settled pastor. During his tenure, the congregation completed a five-year discernment process started under Rev. Swope to become a designated Open and Affirming UCC congregation. Many months of study and discernment led to the formation of this Open and Affirming/Inclusion Covenant, challenging the congregation to embody the inclusive ministry of Jesus Christ in all it does.
The COVID pandemic did not derail the church in 2020-21; instead inspiring the congregation to learn how to use social media and stream services for virtual worship, fellowship and Bible Studies. Emerging from the pandemic, the congregation has grown even stronger in the bonds uniting them and their passion to serve.
In early 2023, the church unveiled plans for a “New Century Sanctuary,” the first major remodel of the worship space since 1989. A capital campaign initiated to raise $150,000 quickly exceeded its goal. Worship moved to the Fellowship Hall until the new sanctuary was dedcicated Sept. 10, 2023. Work also began on a major “five-year Ministry Plan” this past fall to guide the church beyond 2023 — the church’s year “Celebrating Our Past While Embracing Our Future.”
Kansas City UCC, Kansas City, MO
In 1923, Country Club Congregational Church founded (with 25 members) in the newly developing Country Club Brookside area of Kansas City, Mo. as an expansion mission of four Congregational churches in the city. The initial part of the church was constructed and finished by 1925. The church prospered under three different pastors and grew, despite struggles during the Depression.
In the late 1940s, under the leadership of Rev. Gerald Maggart, a substantial building addition and interior renovation of the church took place costing $180,000. The church grew to 765 members and celebrated its 25th anniversary. In 1957, the church joined with other Congregational and Evangelical and Reformed Churches to form the United Church of Christ. Rev. Maggart retired in 1965 and was followed by Rev. Charles Heuser. Another building addition was completed by 1970, with membership growing to 1,200 and the church celebrating its 50th anniversary. Rev. Heuser resigned in 1976, and with demographics of the area shifting, membership declined into the 1980s.
In 1989, a capital campaign raised funds for exterior building restoration and improvements. In 1990, Rev. Roger Kube became pastor, and The Historic Kansas City Foundation presented the church an award in 1992 for preserving the structural and aesthetic integrity of the building. The 1990s became an era of change and evaluation of the church and its programs, including mission work, church boards and organization, long-range planning, and stewardship. The congregation voted unanimously to become Open and Affirming, with same-sex unions performed at the church. In 1995, Rev Kube started The Kristkindl Market (a German Christmas Market), which continues annually attended by thousands of Kansas City area residents. In 1998, a full-time associate minister was hired, and the church celebrated its 75th anniversary.
Rev. Susan Thorne, the first woman minister, was called in 1999. In 2002, outdoor restoration began, including the addition of a Rainbow Flag to the church sign. The church’s commitment to social justice moved forward in 2004 with a decision to join the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity as a coveting member. In 2007, the church became a Peace with Justice Church. Rev. Chase Peeples was called in 2012. The church next voted to no longer rent or lease space to for-profit entities, followed by establishing a program called “Church Out of Bounds” to serve the wider community in 2013.
With the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in 2014, Rev. Peeples performed the first one at the church in November of that year. In 2017, a discussion began regarding changing the church name. Bethany Meier was hired as Associate Minister, Both the church’s chapel and sanctuary were used on an interim basis by Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim congregations, and many Kansas City organizations met in the building.
The name change to Kansas City UCC became official in 2018, with a by-law change the same year when the Board of Evangelism became the Board of Membership and Hospitality. In 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, the church conducted services and business using Zoom. During 2021-2023, the church has used a hybrid format of masked in-person and Zoom for services and meetings. The Diaconate was formed and charged with overseeing and caring for the church’s social and relational life. The steeple and star were renovated. Rev. Jessica Palys was called in 2021.
During 2022 Pride Month, the church lawn display “God’s Doors Are Open to All” was vandalized and restored by church neighbors. Patio concerts and Taizé services began, and the church joined Prairie Village UCC in sponsoring a refugee family from the Congo.
KCUCC Mission Statement: In faithful response to God’s love, we nurture our souls, stretch our minds, and work for justice and peace. We seek to build an inclusive Christian community to develop our faith, and put faith into action, based on the belief that God is still speaking.
50-year Ordination Anniversaries
Born and raised in Michigan. Jerry Bailey became involved as a teenager in a new start church as a result of an invitation to become a part of a youth Sunday School class. Making a “decision of faith” at what came to be known as Hillcrest Baptist Church, he was then baptized at the larger supporting church, Columbia Avenue Baptist Church. Following high school graduation and one financial challenge of a college year, he chose to take advantage of the GI-bill by enlisting in the U.S. Navy. As a result, from 1968 to 1972, he was stationed in San Diego, Calif.; Londonderry, Northern Ireland; Newport, R.I.; Boston, Mass.; and aboard the USS Joseph Hewes. Following military service, he served as pastor at a new mission in mid-Michigan, where he returned to college and was ordained May 6, 1973. He received a BAA in Broadcasting and Cinematography from Central Michigan University in 1975. From 1976 to 1979, he attened The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky. to pursue a Master of Divinity. In 1979, he married Melba Welker, fellow Southern Baptist Theological Seminary student and graduate. He volunteered as a student chaplain at the Kentucky State Reformatory, LaGrange, Ky. while in seminary from 1977 to 1980. He worked as chaplain for Arizona Baptist Children’s Services, Phoenix, Ariz., from 1980 to 1982, when he became chaplain with the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons in Butner, N.C., Safford, Ariz., and Yankton, S.D. until 2005. He was a member of the Congregational Church UCC, Yankton, S.D. and became an ordained UCC minister May 13, 2001. Upon mandatory age retirement in October 2005, he and his wife relocated to southeast Missouri, where they became members of Emanuel UCC, Jackson, Mo. Since 2006, he has been serving as part-time pastor for two small rural Evangelical Lutheran Churches in southeast Missouri.
Rev. Dr. Stephen H. Buchholz grew up in Owensville, Mo. He attended public schools and graduated from Owensville High School. He was baptized, confirmed, and ordained at St. Peter UCC, Owensville, Mo. After high school, he graduated from the University of Denver with a Bachelor of Arts. He then graduated from Eden Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity in 1973. Ten years later, he graduated from Eden Seminary with a Doctor of Ministry. From 1973 to 78, he served as Associate Pastor of Central UCC. From 1979 to 1982, he served Faith UCC, Wentzville, Mo. He was then called as Senior Pastor of Central UCC, Jefferson City, Mo., where he served for 30 years until his retirement in 2012. After retirement, he served Immanuel UCC, Sedalia, Mo. as an interim supply pastor from 2013 to 2016. He also supplied at Columbia UCC, Columbia, Mo. for a year and a half. He currently serves part-time as pastor of Congregational Care and Visitation at First United Methodist Church, Jefferson City, Mo., where he has been for the past seven years. He has been very active over the years, serving on numerous Conference and Association committees including the Conference Council. He also has been very active in the Jefferson City community, holding various leadership roles on boards, committees, and organizations.
Rev. Dr. Allen Grothe was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He and his twin brother, Walt, are sons of Roscoe and Mary Grothe. Along with his family, he was nurtured in the Christian faith at Trinity UCC, Cleveland, Ohio. Having expressed a desire to study for the ministry, he shared in and was encouraged to preach at Trinity’s Youth Sunday services. A two-sport athlete both in high school and college, he played basketball and baseball (and, years later, had the privilege of coaching many young people in those two sports, including his son, Arthur, and his daughter, Mary Jean). He also participated in the American High School Ambassadors Program, traveling to London, Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam. As a college student at Heidelberg College (now Heidelberg University), Tiffin, Ohio, he was asked to be a student pastor at Our Master’s Chapel, Benton, Ohio. Following graduation from Heidelberg with a Bachelor of Arts, he was a summer seminary assistant at Avon Lake UCC, Avon Lake, Ohio, where he worked with Rev. Dr. H. Richard Bucey, who had been his childhood pastor and inspiring mentor. He then attended Yale Divinity School, New Haven, Conn., graduating with a Master of Divinity. During his seminary years, he was an outreach worker and basketball coach at the downtown branch of the New Haven YMCA, where he also ran summer day camps. Following his ordination at his home church June 10, 1973, he served as pastor of Parkwood Congregational UCC, Lakewood, Ohio; St. Peter UCC, Seven Hills, Ohio; St. Paul UCC (now Community of Faith UCC), Elyria, Ohio; and Pilgrim Congregational UCC, St. Louis, Mo. Along the way, he graduated from Eden Theological Seminary with a Doctor of Ministry. Following retirement in 2015, he has been serving as a supply pastor and bridge pastor throughout the St. Louis Association, while continuing as a volunteer with the Ready Readers program. Allen’s wife, Anne, was a Continuing Medical Education Specialist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and then worked in a variety of positions at Eden Seminary before retiring in 2020. Allen and Anne each have a grown son and daughter, and they greatly enjoy their six grandchildren. They reside in Affton, Mo.
Bruce Pilcher graduated from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, in 1973. He was UCC ordained in September 1973, serving as pastor of Cresco Ohio First Congregational UCC for three and a half years. He then served as pastor of Fondulac UCC in East Peoria, Ill. until 1979. He completed one year of accredited clinical pastoral education. He was a staff chaplain from 1980 to 1983 at Des Moines Iowa Methodist Medical Center. In 1983, he became chaplain at Passavant Area Hospital in Jacksonville, Ill., serving there until 2008 before retiring. For the next seven years, he worked part-time as a chaplain with the Jacksonville area senior citizen service. He and his wife then moved to Independence, Mo., and became active members of Southwood UCC, Raytown, Mo.
Russell Viehmann is a 1965 graduate of Normandy High School, Normandy, Mo.; 1973 graduate of Eden Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Mo.; and a 1989 graduate of Westminister College. He was ordained at Immanuel UCC, Ferguson, Mo. in June 1973. His 33 years of “Specialized Ministry” in higher education included Eden Theological Seminary from 1973 to 1984, Saint Louis University from 1985 to 1996, and Webster University from 1997 to 2007. He has served in various interim ministries at Ebenezer Stone Church, Gerald, Mo. and Immanuel UCC, Ferguson, Mo. He also has provided pastoral supply work at other churches in the bi-state region. He has served as a Board Trustee for Emmaus Homes, Inc.; Deaconess Hospital, Deaconess Foundation, and Deaconess Parish Nurse Ministries; Nerinx Hall High School; Hope Happens, Washington University; Eugene Field House, St. Louis, Mo.; and Good Samaritan Foundation, UCC Mission. He also served on the campaign Advisory Committee at Every Child’s Hope and Immanuel UCC Church Council. He has consulted with numerous organizations on fundraising and campaign planning through the years. Recently fully retired and granted Omega Status in the UCC, he and his wife Virginia have been married for 53 years. They have two daughters and sons-in-law, three grandsons, and one granddaughter.