Parkway United Church of Christ
Town and Country, Missouri
November 1838, a small flock of German immigrant farmers established the German Evangelical Church, Des Peres. They were lead by Pastor Nollau (a former missionary among the Indians). Sunday worship followed at neighboring homes or churches.
32 years and 3 log cabin churches later the present brick edifice was erected. The bricks were made exclusively of Missouri clay…dug, shaped and hand fired.
In 1885 the 687lb bell was purchased. The price, which was $179.25, included a falling hammer and 40 feet of rope. It was a very good investment as it is still ringing today. A beautiful tradition began the first Sunday the bell was installed. The church would ring the bell three times during the Lord’s Prayer so the farmers in the field, unable to attend church service on Sunday could stop and pray the “Lord’s Prayer” with the congregation. We still hear the same bell toll today during the Lord’s Prayer. By saving this church we have a better link with the past. The next time you hear the bell ring, remember it has run faithfully each Sunday for 97 years.
In 1889 the congregation remodeled one of the buildings to create a parsonage.
In 1897 Reverend F.W. Baur came to what was then the Zion German Evangelical Church. Reverend Baur was to serve the congregation for 35 years. The service was all in German. The confirmation classes, which are much different from today’s, were also in German. They were 3 days a week. It was necessary to always attend the Wednesday night services and of course the Sunday services too.
Each year it was the duty of the confirmands’ mothers to scrub the church floor, before that special Sunday. The ladies made their own lye soap from hog water, cooked in a big black kettle. Then they would scrub a year’s accumulation of dirt and mud away until the floor was almost white.
In 1904 Reverend Baur’s salary was raised to $550 annually. The interior of the church was quite different looking. The coal burning stoves had a habit of blowing out soot and the well-scrubbed Sunday morning congregation would be greeted with blackened floors and seats.
At this time the men sat on one side of the church and the women sat on the other.
1911 the church’s first Sunday School was built, today it is the Youth Center, on the north side of the church. Pot Luck dinners were the great social event of the week. After traveling miles by buck board to church, the Sunday afternoon dinners were a good time for catching up on the latest news. Those Sunday afternoons were filled with warm, friendly conversations and lots of fun, especially after most of the congregation had spent a hard 6 days in the field farming.
A year later, 1912, the congregation purchased the Tracker Pipe Organ, which is still in use today. The cost was $950 and the money was raised by the youth group. In those days, before electricity, the organ had to be pumped by foot to play. Each Sunday a young boy was paid 25 cents to sit at the side of the organ and pump. The organ was then in front of the church. Oh, what a responsibility, if he pumped too fast the sound went high and if he slowed down, the organ stopped.
September 26, 1915 a new parsonage was dedicated. Ten years later there was the introduction of English to the small German congregation. The all- German services were limited to two a month. The following year the church’s constitution was translated into English. (Today this building is used by St. Louis Children’s Choir.)
The holidays were festive times and the Christmas service was the highlight of the year. A huge fir tree was cut from one of the farms, then brought to church and decorated with real burning candles. What a beautiful sight! Each child had a part in the service and had to stand and recite a piece. Sometimes the services would last two and a half hours. Then St. Nicholas would visit and give oranges and candy to everyone. As the evening would wear on, so would the candles, therefore the janitor would keep a bucket of water with a rag tied to a pole and as the branches would start to burn he would douse the fire with water. (Art Sellenrick recalled one particularly long Christmas Eve Service, the fire broke out in several places on the tree. It soon got out of hand and fortunately a quick thinking man ran up on the pulpit and threw his coat over the tree, smothering the flames. “We came close to burning the place down,” Art recalls.) (Current member – Pearl Sellenrick’s brother-in-law)
1928 for the 90th Anniversary, there was a major renovation of the sanctuary; the pulpit was lowered, the pews were changed to allow a center aisle and the center door was installed in the back of the church. Two years later more modern oil haters were purchased and installed.
1931, after 35 years, Reverend Baur performed his last marriage in the church between Pauline Kolbe and Edward Kraus. Ed and Polly became Caretakers and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in this church in 1981.
In 1932 a illuminated cross, seven feet tall, was placed on the church steeple. It was a vision of hope from miles away, during the terribly hard years of the depression. That same year, during the January congregational meeting, a new resolution granting women members of legal age the right to vote on church matters was passed. 1932 saw the name of the church changed to Zion Evangelical and Reformed Church and the German Sunday services were now only once a month. The change was to encourage more general attendance of the services by the younger people who no longer used the German language freely.
An interesting account of the church’s history appeared in the St. Louis Star Times in 1935. Even in those days a congregation nearing 100 years old was a news item.
In 1936 Reverend Polster, who had severed the church for 5 years, made a trip to Germany. He arrived home a few weeks later with boxes and boxes of precious stained glass.
Different members of the congregation had donated $100 a window and Reverend Polster’s friend in Europe had created the windows for the church. They were leaded together here in St. Louis by the Unique Art Glass Company . Each window represents a passage from the Bible. Today the windows are insured for $30,000.
By the 100th Anniversary of the church in 1938 the following improvements were made; the building of the vestibule, the chancel was rearranged, the organ was built in the balcony and hardwood floors were laid .
It was a joyous celebration, which included a personal letter from the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
By now the congregation filled the church each Sunday morning. One of the loveliest times in the church was during Thanksgiving. The Evangelical German Orphanage, today the Evangelical Children’s Home, would come and sing in the Thanksgiving Eve Service. Realizing how very precious all children were after the service, the congregation would fill the orphanage truck with all the good things they had grown and had canned all summer. They were a real treat to children who didn’t get to taste home-grown tomatoes, green beans, and other healthy vegetables. The biggest treat was the canned fruit, apple butter and jellies.
Approximately a year after the 100th Anniversary the exterior of the church was painted white and remained so until 1982. The church was still very much the center of all social activities in the community.
In the summer of 1940 this church sponsored the Mission Festival. It was an all you could eat dinner – 40 cents for adults and 25 cents for children.
The war years were hard on the members of the congregation, with fathers, brothers and sons going off to protect our nation. One young soldier came home and began helping the church. First he installed, a much, needed drinking fountain in the vestibule. The young man’s name was Rudy Meyer, husband of Helen Meyer Williams. He never stopped installing, fixing, helping and caring for the church. In 1949 and for the very first time the Good Friday services were held in English.
The new pews were installed in 1958. According to one long time member, they were a blessing. The previous seats had been stained and during the hot summers the dark stain would bleed onto your clothes. It got so, before the new seats, your Sunday clothes were truly that, because the brown stain never came out and you had to wear the same thing each Sunday.
1957 was one of the biggest steps in the history of the Evangelical and Reformed churches, they merged with the Congregational Christian Churches. One year later the name of this church was changed to Parkway United Church of Christ.
In 1962 a dream was dreamed. At the annual congregational meeting The Parkway members adopted a goal of $40,000 to be raised by pledges over the years for the construction of a new educational building.
In March, a canvas was made to secure pledges for the building program on the basis that commitments would be forwarded in a two-year period. The goal set for this capital fund drive was in the amount of $50,000. There was great joy at the gathering on that same evening when the results of all the participating teams were tabulated and the total was in the excess of $54,000.
Contracts were let and the new building was dedicated on October 13, 1963. It was also the 125th Anniversary of the church’s founding.
This same year the old parsonage and land at Clayton and Ballas were sold to the Shell Oil Company. Fifteen acres were purchased west of the new educational building. The new and present parsonage was built on Kirken Knoll Drive. The name (given by Reverend Chidister) means church hill in German. (Since that time the parsonage has been sold.)
In 1965 the carpeting was installed and in 1971 the church was once again renovated, repainted and a dark wood pulpit, altar and lectern were purchased. Parkway United Church of Christ was all dressed up for its 100th Birthday Party!
In 1979 the congregation breathed a little easier when the church installed air conditioning. But in 1980, the congregation was faced with one of the biggest decisions they had ever made. The building was literally crumbling away. The mortar between the clay bricks had been made of pure sand and limestone, and needed to be replaced and the foundation was giving out.
A special chemical process was needed to clean the bricks and then each brick had to be re-tuck-pointed. The decision put to the congregation: restore a $5,000 building at the cost of $150,000 or build an entirely new sanctuary on our ground by the educational building. In May of that year a congregational meeting was held. It seemed the that the 111 year old building held too many memories of friendships made, prayers answered, of sorrows and of joys. It is hard to tear down a structure that for so many held a deep, personal attachment.
With this in mind the congregation voted to preserve the old church. So the contractor moved in. The stained glass windows were boarded up, the shrubbery torn away and work began. There were some crucial moments. While the workmen were working on the foundation of the rear wall, water built up behind the foundation and broke through. Without some quick work by the men, the whole rear wall could have come down. The steeple some of us were sure would fall on our heads has been replaced and points to heaven even higher than the one before. The interior of the building has been patched and re-plastered and repainted.
The next time you hear the organ, remember it has been playing hymns for 70 years. Look at the marks of the past remaining on the side aisles, those are where the old coal stoves used to be. Glance at the stained glass windows…the sun has been streaming through them for almost a half a century.
You have saved an historic building and in doing so you have preserved our connection with the past. This historic church symbolizes the deep faith of our forebears. It is up to us to continue this gift of our heritage.
By the time the church purchased additional land on the west side of Ballas and built a new education building in 1960, it was apparent that a split campus was a major problem. A Long-Range Planning Committee, formed in 1990, recommended that the Church Plan for the 21st Century should be to build a new sanctuary and administrative wing, expand the education wing, and renovate the existing education building. The Manske Corporation was chosen as architectural firm in 1992.
A Steering Committee formed in 1994 and soon began discussions with St. Luke’s United Church of Christ in St. Louis about the possibility of sharing the proceeds of the Marie K. and William H. Rechtern Trust. Mrs. Rechtern, a member of St. Luke’s Church, directed that the money be used to build a new church at a different location. After much hard work and faith, the St. Louis Circuit Court approved a plan to appropriate 1.2 million dollars for Parkway’s new sanctuary and 1 million dollars for St. Luke’s. This has enabled St. Luke’s to continue their ministry in the city. Other capital campaigns have realized an additional nine hundred thousand dollars for Parkway’s building program. In January of 1997, L. A. Schaefer was selected as the general contractor.
On October 5, 1997, a Groundbreaking Celebration was held, and construction began in November of that year. On June 7, 1998, the congregation had the Cornerstone Dedication. The bell and steeple were installed on top of the History Tower on October 30, 1998. Our first worship services in the sanctuary were on December 24, 1998. Our Quimby Pipe Organ was dedicated on February 4, 2001 and our stained glass windows were dedicated in March, 2003 and completely installed by summer of 2003.
Thanks to God’s providence and the faith and hard work of many persons, Parkway United Church of Christ is serving people through the ministry of its new building.