The United Church of Christ (UCC) was formed in 1957 by the merger of the Congregational Christian Church and the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Both of these denominations had themselves came into existence through prior mergers: the Congregational Church and Christian Church merged in 1931 to form the Congregational Christian Church; the (German) Reformed Church and (German) Evangelical Synod of North America merged in 1934 to from the Evangelical and Reformed Church. A history of the UCC is available on the denomination’s website.
UCC congregations in the St. Louis area
Three of the four denominational streams that make up the present-day UCC had congregations in the St. Louis area: the (German) Evangelical Synod of North America, the Congregational Church and the (German) Reformed Church.
The Evangelical Synod of North America
The Evangelical Synod of North America (ESNA) was an important denomination in the life of the German immigrant community. Of the UCC’s four denominational antecedents, the ESNA had the most congregations in the St. Louis, Missouri Valley and southern Illinois regions.
In 1833, a group of Westphalians formed the first German Protestant Church west of the Mississippi in Femme Osage, St. Charles County, Missouri. As German immigrants began to flood into the region, the need for German-speaking pastors became critical. By 1837, pastors from missionary societies in Switzerland and Germany began arriving in St. Louis to minister to German frontier communities. In 1840, six clergymen organized the Deutsche Evangelische Kirchenverein des Westens (German Evangelical Church Society of the West). Beginning as a local pastors association, the organization eventually consolidated with other similar Midwestern groups to form the German Evangelical Synod of North America in 1872.
The ESNA’s founders sought to overcome divisions that occurred during the German Reformation by creating a united denomination that could accommodate both Lutheran and Reformed (Calvinist) doctrinal viewpoints. Despite this, many congregations maintained a strong Lutheran identity and often included “Lutheran” in their names. As a result, they are often confused with churches belonging to a Lutheran denomination (see “Lutheran versus German Evangelical congregations”).
For an early history of the ESNA and its beginnings in the St. Louis area, see Carl E. Schneider’s The German Church on the American Frontier: A Study in the Rise of Religion among the Germans of the West, Based on the History of the Evangelischer Kirchenverein des Westens (Evangelical Church Society of the West) 1840-1866, St. Louis: Eden Publishing House, 1939; R 284.173 S358G.
Congregationalism was first established during the 16th-century English Reformation by Separatists who disagreed with the Church of England over issues of worship and church government. The denomination was brought to America by the Pilgrims in 1620. From its stronghold in New England, the Congregational Church was spread to the western frontier through missionary efforts and population migration.
Congregationalism in St. Louis began in 1852 when the pastor of Third Presbyterian Church and a group of members left to form First Trinitarian Congregational Church (now First Congregational Church of St. Louis in Clayton, Mo.). By 1931, when the Congregational Church merged with the Christian Church, 11 congregations had been established in St. Louis City and six in St. Louis County. In addition, Independent Protestant Congregational Church, which was founded in 1856 as an independent German Protestant congregation, was integrated into the denomination in 1926.
The Reformed Church has its roots in the Protestant reformation in Switzerland and Germany and was Calvinist in theology. The denomination was established in America in 1747 by German-speaking immigrants and was strongest in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Ohio.
Salem Evangelical Reformed Church, the denomination’s only congregation in the St. Louis area, was founded in 1888 at 14th and Sullivan Streets. It merged with Faith Evangelical and Reformed Church in 1949 to become Faith-Salem Evangelical and Reformed Church. The congregation closed in 2000, and its records are now held by the Eden Theological Seminary Archives.
Independent German Protestant congregations
Besides congregations with denominational ties, three independent German Protestant churches in St. Louis are notable. Two important congregations eventually joined predecessor denominations of the UCC.
Founded in 1834, Holy Ghost German Evangelical Church was the earliest German Protestant congregation in St. Louis and can be considered the mother church of non-Lutheran German Protestantism in the city. After a split in the congregation led to the formation of what would become St. Peter’s and St. Marcus Churches (both belonging to the Evangelical Synod), Holy Ghost remained independent until 1943, when it became a member of the Evangelical and Reformed Church. The congregation closed in 2006.
Independent German Evangelical Protestant Congregation was founded in 1856 when the Rev. Franz Picker and a group of members left Holy Ghost Church. In 1885, the congregation became a member of the Independent Protestant Church of North America, a denomination that became an association within the Congregational Church in 1926. The congregation is now known as Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Missouri.
A third independent German congregation was Bethlehem German Evangelical Church, about which little information exists. It was founded by the Rev. Christoph F. Starck and 25 members who left Bethany German Evangelical Church (Evangelical Synod) in 1878. Civil marriage records signed by Starck suggest that it was in existence until at least 1897. Starck, who died in 1918, is the only clergyman known to be associated with the congregation. The congregation met at Beaumont Baptist Church at Morgan (now Delmar) and Beaumont until 1881, when it purchased the former St. Mark’s English Lutheran Church at Elliot and Wash (now Cole). No records of the congregation are known to exist. This congregation should not be confused with Bethlehem German Evangelical Church, an Evangelical Synod congregation founded in 1890 and originally located at Shaw and Hereford.