The History of St. Paul’s

Condensed from an article by Arthur W. Newell, D.D., a former Senior Pastor of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ.  Additional material was taken from an article written for The St. Paul’s Messenger in 1960 by Clara M. Scherffius.
 
 

Although St. Paul’s United Church of Christ was organized on December 15, 1890, its roots may be traced from the German immigrants who settled in the area, to events which happened many years earlier in their mother country.  The Reformation had produced two predominant strains of Protestantism:  The Lutheran Church, which followed the teachings of Martin Luther (a German Priest), and the Reformed Church, which followed the teachings of Ulrich Zwingli (a Swiss priest).  The rivalry of these two branches, together with that of the remaining Roman Catholic Church, kept Germany a quarreling and divided country.  To remedy this situation, the German Emperor decreed that the two Protestant churches would be unified into one church.   As a result of this decree, the Evangelical Church of Germany was formed in 1817.  A freedom of conscience clause permitted different theological interpretations within a united church.

The German immigrants who settled in the Evansville area arrived fifteen to twenty years after this union in Germany.  Since a great many of the immigrants were farmers, a whole series of rural churches were established in Posey and Vanderburgh counties before the first Evangelical church came into being in Evansville (Zion in 1848).  There was also a German Reformed Church on Elsas Avenue.

A settlement west of Pigeon Creek had grown, and numbers of young German families moved from the rural areas into this part of expanding Evansville.  The yearning for a church to serve their needs was strong, and the pastor of Elsas Avenue German Reformed Church met with a group of interested men and agreed to help them organize into a church and secure a pastor.

Once organized, they chose the name The Evangelical St. Peter’s Reformed Church.  They began worshiping in the facilities of a German Methodist Church on Indiana Street until a sanctuary of their own was built at the corner of 12th Avenue and West Michigan Street.  The new sanctuary was dedicated on May 22, 1892.  Unfortunately, the Germans coming into the area had been reared in the Evangelical tradition with its greater freedoms of conscience.  The hoped-for growth did not materialize, and the debt incurred to build the new sanctuary was a constant worry.

In 1895, the young church made an appeal to Zion Evangelical Church to  help with the financial burden.  As a result of this appeal, an offer was made by the Evangelical Synod of North America to render aid.  The membership met to determine the next course of action, and the decision was made to accept the Synod’s offer of help.  The Evangelical Synod immediately sent an experienced pastor to help with the transition.  The members decided to change the name of the church to St. Paul’s Evangelical Church to reflect the denominational switch.

There were years of growth as the community grew, and there were times of change within the church services as well.  There was an increase in the number of services presented in the English language, and German language services continued to be held on Sunday mornings.

The years of World War I were difficult, and the German services had to be dropped.  Once the war was over, St. Paul’s grew in both numbers and in programs.  Improvements in transportation made it possible for people to travel great distances to come to church, and St. Paul’s benefitted from its location and drew from even rural areas.  It was the during this period that there was rapid growth in Sunday Church School, so major additions were completed in 1922 (Parish Hall) and in 1935 (classrooms).

The Evangelical Synod of North America merged with the Reformed Church in the United States, and the church’s name became St. Paul’s Evangelical and Reformed Church in 1934.  There was continued growth, and in 1955, it was decided to add an assistant pastor to the staff.

Another merger in 1957 between the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Church created the United Church of Christ.  St. Paul’s United Church of Christ continues under that denomination today.  Still more growth necessitated the construction of an education building in 1962, a renovation of the sanctuary in 1974, and the construction of more classroom space and a gymnasium in 1985.

In 2015, the Congregation celebrated the 125th Anniversary of St. Paul’s.  A special worship service and celebration were held on October 25, 2015.  We invite you to enjoy video clips from that special day:

125th Anniversary Celebration Worship Service

  

A New Chapter in the Life of St. Paul’s

On September 8, 2019, after years of research and studies, the Congregation made the very emotional and somewhat controversial decision to raze the majority of our building and build a new structure on the current site.  Unfortunately, we had been faced with dramatically increasing costs to operate and maintain our large and aging facility.  Our plan was to retain our current gymnasium as a separate structure and build a new building to house a sanctuary, office area, meeting spaces, and fellowship facilities.  This was not a decision the Congregation faced or took lightly.  The important point is the Congregation made a decision, and that decision was to stay at the same location on the westside of Evansville.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 changed the plans of the Congregation.  Realizing that we could not continue in the current building, the Congregation voted to put the property up for sale in August 2021.

In September 2021, the Congregation voted to accept an offer to purchase the St. Paul’s land and building.  St. Paul’s held its last worship service at Twelfth and Michigan Streets on January 30, 2022.  There were about 150 people in attendance.

Over the years, several programs and events had become institutions unto themselves.  St. Paul’s Annual Sausage Supper was a well known local event that took place each November.  Our ninetieth and final Sausage Supper took place in November 2019. 

Community service was and continues to be an important part of St. Paul’s.  In the fall seasons of 2008, 2010, and 2011, St. Paul’s enjoyed great success with three separate home repair blitzes called Give Big.   Neighborhood outreach continued to be a priority of St. Paul’s as demonstrated by the Open Gym ministry.  Our last Open Gym was on January 27, 2022 which was right before we left our old building.  Our St. Paul’s Kitchen group (formerly known as The Breakfast Club) continues to operate a two-times weekly meal distribution at our former building with the blessing of the new owner.

The Congregation of St. Paul’s will continue.  At least from February 2022 until the Summer of 2022, Zion Evangelical in Downtown Evansville will be our hosts for worship services and Sunday School.   While at Zion Evangelical, St. Paul’s will continue to search for a new, permanent church home.

Our time for Sunday worship while at Zion will be 9:00 AM with Sunday School taking place at 10:00 AM.

St Paul’s has stood on the corner of Twelfth Avenue and West Michigan Street for over 130 years.   With God’s blessing, we look forward to the next 130 years at a new church home!

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“For where two or three are gathered together

in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Matthew 18:20

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