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Presbyterian Heritage in Pittsburg

On January 1, 1986, the two Presbyterian Churches in Pittsburg, Kansas officially merged as one and became The Presbyterian Church of Pittsburg, Kansas. At the time of the merger, one could say that in a technical sense, they both had the same name “First United Presbyterian” since both were of the denomination called the United Presbyterian Church USA, and both were called “First Churches”. However they were known locally as the UP church and the First church. The history and heritage of these churches is both interesting and instructive.

The First Presbyterian Church started first on March 12, 1879 by fifteen people who petitioned the denomination to become a church in New Pittsburg. Most were Presbyterians from Pleasant Hill, Mo., Osage Mission, Ft. Scott, and Weir. Three charter members were from the Methodist Episcopal Church, later to become the First United Methodist Church. The Reverend Warren Mayo, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Girard, chaired the Presbytery Committee that started the church. Rev. Mayo was widely known as a man of education. “Once he delivered a lecture to the Girard Literary Society about the influence of the commerce of India upon Western Asia, tracing the history of many of the ancient cities, their rise, fall, etc., and the causes which brought them about.”

The first meetings were held in Waskey’s Hall, a room above the Jernigan’s hardware store, 317 N. Broadway, later Evans Bookstore, then Sell and Sons, then Kansas Gas and Electric, now Mitchelson Law Firm. In 1883 after four years in the hall, the men formed a building committee and then reported back “without much success and suggested that a committee of ladies be appointed to finish the work.” The ladies tried but gave the work back to the men after $150 was secured. Worship services were held at the Hall for another year until they moved on February 10, 1884, to the frame schoolhouse on the northwest corner of 5th and Walnut, where the Bottenfield building currently stands. The Reverend Francis Symmes was the first full-time minister of the church, accepting the call on May 6, 1883 and serving until October 26, 1885.

The UP church was started second, one year, one month later, on April 29, 1880, with 12 charter members. The Reverend Josiah Gibson, pastor of the Beulah, Kansas UP church, served as their minister during the initial organizing of the new mission church. On January 1, 1881 Rev. Gibson accepted the call of the new church and served the members for 16 years before retiring in 1907. The first church services were held in the home of members, one on W. Forest. Most of the charter members were from the Beulah Presbyterian Church, a congregation of 500 members, the largest Presbyterian Church west of the Mississippi at the time. The town was only 300 citizens. Today the church in Beulah no longer exists. Later, worship services were held on the second floor of a building on the northwest corner of 3rd and Broadway, where Dr. Richardson currently has an office. In 1891 the church purchased the Tabernacle Methodist Church on the northwest corner of 5th and Pine, where the Memorial Auditorium currently stands. This red brick building was used for 25 years.

Meanwhile, the First church had a number of pastors, coming and going. While Rev. Symmes was still the pastor, the First church building was dedicated – a small frame building located on the corner of 8th and Pine. The manse was located at 805 N. Pine. The Rev. H.S. Sharpless assumed duties on October 1, 1886. He shared time with the Presbyterian Church in Weir. After two years, he left and Rev. Charles McCreary came for just one year. Then, Rev. A.M. Mann stayed for two years and was able to help them add to their church building to care for the increased number in the congregation. On December 27, 1889 the session minutes read, “After a free conversation on the spiritual status of the church, it was resolved that the Pastor be requested to present the whole subject of worldly amusements as they stand upon the standards of the church and the word of God,” Rev. Mann relocated in 1891 and was succeeded by Rev. Gerritt Snyder who then stayed for nine years after there was a gap in leadership from 1891 to 1903. During Rev. Snyder’s pastorate interesting things occurred.

But let’s get back to the UP church. After Rev. Gibson retired in 1907, Rev. A.H. Giffith of Oklahoma City became the pastor. There was immediate growth but he left one year later. In 1909 Rev. R.W. Thompson was called to serve. Under his leadership, mission churches were established on Quincy Ave. in Pittsburg, in Dunkirk, and in Mulberry, Kansas. The church purchased land at 4th & Walnut for a new church building. The cornerstone was laid on June 13, 1915 and the new facility was dedicated on May 21, 1916. Rev. Thompson stayed until 1918 and moved to Iowa. In 1918, Rev. H. Harper Hutchman became the pastor and during his first year, the Congregational Church located at 3rd and Walnut voted to unite with the UP church, starting on February 8, 1919. Rev. Hutchman served until 1940 when he retired at age 78.

Meanwhile, Rev. Snyder was at the First Presbyterian Church, which I remind you, is a different denomination than the UP church. Both were Presbyterian, but different in style, hymns, organization, and heritage. It was under Rev. Snyder’s leadership that plans were made for a new church at the southeast corner of 6th and Pine. On October 19, 1904, the stove in the church was smoking during the Sunday evening service. The pastor invited group to adjourn to the manse and he stated the subject of the meeting now to be the need of a new church building. One week later, Rev. Snyder called a vote on the question: “Do we need a new church building?” It was unanimous. Rev. Snyder pledge one-half of a year’s salary for the new church building if the running expenses were met promptly. Fifty were present and someone estimated the cost to be from $12,000 to $15,000. The Ladies Aid Society pledged $500 toward the building fund and two years later doubled that amount. The property was purchased in 1906 for $6,500 and the old church was sold for $4,500. The cost estimate rose to $20,000. The actual cost was $25,000. The cornerstone was laid in 1907. They had a membership of 176 and in 4 years increased to 295. During that time they built the Sanctuary and the Parlor. According to some reports, Rev. Snyder was the chair of the design committee, the chair of the budget committee, and the chair of the fund raising committee. He left before the church was complete and went to the Country Club district of Kansas City to start a new church. Rev. Alspach followed him and the new structure was finally dedicated in 1911. He stayed for 4 years.

On January 21, 1916 Rev. J.M. McDonald was called and received an annual salary of $2500 and manse. There was good growth in the church. In 1919 the Session minutes say, “Motion made and seconded that an Orchestra Leader be secured.” A year later, the Session granted Rev. McDonald a 90-day leave of absence without salary. Dr. McCray was the music director and was asked to keep up the activities of the church without a pastor. In May of 1920 the Session asked for Rev. McDonald’s resignation but at the congregation meeting the discussion was so heated that the issue was laid on the table. In December of 1920 the Session voted to recommend Rev. Perry Jenness to the congregation as their new Pastor even though there is no record of what happened to Rev. McDonald. In January 1921, however, the congregation does meet to call Rev. Charles Armentrout, who stayed 8 years. Various events happened: the Session continued the Sunday School orchestra, the Anti-Saloon League was given a date to speak in church, the WCTU was not given an entire service, Mr. Reggie Carter was approved to enter the ministry, a strong motion was made objecting to an editorial in the Pittsburg Sun entitled “Mr. Butler is right,” a motion by Mr. Mendehall protested the College of Emporia and the unorthodox teaching by Professor Cornet, and in 1928 Rev. Armentrout, well thought of, resigned to take a post at Warrensburg, Mo. Rev. A.B. Miller was called and had the first long pastorate of 18 years – 1928 to 1946.

Meanwhile Rev. Hutchman was enjoying a long call at the UP church, 1918 to 1940. The congregation increased immediately with the merger of the Congregational church. They enjoyed times of growth and discovery. Rev. Arthur Armstrong followed him and served for 6 years, the years of World War II when so many of the men of the church went overseas. Then came Rev. Harold Karnes, from 1947 to 1954, the post World War II years of growth. Rev. Ellsworth Caylor came in 1954 and pastored until 1959 when he accepted a position in Ottowa, Kansas. The Rev. Dr. Walter Farris came in 1960 to be the pastor until 1964 when he left to organize a new church in St. Petersburg, Florida. During that time, the church services were broadcast over the radio.

Those last four pastors, following Rev. Hutchman who stayed 22 years, served an average of 5 and a half years. At the First church we had a different story. After Dr. Miller’s long term of 18 years, Rev. Wallace Faris was the pastor for 4 years, but then Dr. Homer Keith arrived in 1950 and stayed for 31 years. Homer became the pastor as the new Westminster Hall was being completed. The 50s and 60s saw growth in numbers, families, in programs. Mariners was strong and active. Dorothy Lampton served as organist for 28 years. A new Reuter organ was installed in 1969. These years were good years for most mainline churches across America. In 1959 a very dramatic event happened. The two churches became the same denomination. Nationally, the former United Presbyterian Church and the former Presbyterian Church USA became the new United Presbyterian Church USA. That meant there were two churches of the same denomination, one at 6th and Pine and the other at 4th and Walnut, three short blocks from each other.

In 1981, Homer retired. Rev. Steve Washburn became the Interim Pastor during a time when the two churches made an effort to merge – unsuccessfully! Rev. Chuck Carson was called in 1982. It is certainly interesting that Rev. Carson and Rev. Docherty were pastors of the separate churches, then co-pastors, and announced their retirements to be on the same day, June 30, 2000.

Meanwhile in 1964 at the UP church Rev. Fred Lenk was called. He and his family were the first to use the new manse at 807 Twin Lakes Drive, a home currently owned by Chris and Dawn McNay. He served until 1975, 11 years, and went to Clay Center, Kansas. The Rev. George Ott, a retired minister from Baxter Springs, Kansas, then served as Interim Pastor for sometime until Dr. Bob Docherty was called in 1977.

Dr. Bob faithfully served the UP church, attracting college students and emphasizing missions as well as love for each other. The Parrott scholarship program for PSU students singing in the choir continued. It was at that time that the North Joplin apartments were sponsored.

In 1985 conversations began about a possible merger of the UP and First Presbyterian Churches. The UP Session selected the following representatives: Bob Bitner, Margaret Mangrum, Ron Rhodes, Maxine Owsely, Lewis Saccanne, Elaine Huntsinger, Chris Johnson, and Dick Coleman. The First Session selected: Pam Schlemmer, Laurie Bottenfield, Ken Hagman, Dennis Malle, Ben Vineyard, Ralph Thomas, Chuck Carson, John McNay and Mary Spencer. After much discussion and negotiation the two congregations voted on October 27, 1985 to merge. Rev. Carson and Rev. Docherty became co-pastors. A name was selected: The Presbyterian Church of Pittsburg, Kansas. The former First church building was selected and the former UP building was auctioned and the property was sold. Some items moved to the current church building. The two congregations, certainly different in style, temperament, and goals, had to work on becoming one.

One of the first issues was the status of co-pastors. It wasn’t long before there was a common consensus that they need just one senior pastor. Eventually, Rev. Carson went to Chanute, Kansas and Rev. Docherty went to Wichita. Rev. Paul McNeil served as the Interim Pastor for nine months, and the Search Committee chaired by Roger McCune, in 1989 selected a California native Rev. Dr. Robert Bardeen.

However, the process of becoming one had to continue. On May 22, 1989, at Rev. Bardeen’s first Session meeting, there was a motion to create a committee of five – Kristi Bitner, Ken Hagman, Robert Keith, Don Kerle, and Ralph Taylor to study the needs of the church in the areas of: 1) To build a new church, or 2) To remodel or repair the present structure.

Between 1989 to 2000, we have hired a planning consultant from Atlanta, Georgia, we appointed a site committee for a new church, we had an Architect’s committee with Schafer, Johnson, Cox and Frey to design a new church on South Rouse, we voted in favor of the new building but did not have peace about it, we hired a church consultant from Alban Institute and discovered more about each other, we hired another architect firm to compare a new church to adding on to the present facility, we voted to proceed, we had a fund raising effort into the possibility of a new building, and then another dramatic event occurred. Ron Rhodes, chair of that last committee reported to the Session, November 26, 1996 that there was neither sufficient funds nor enough votes to build a new facility. The Session voted immediately to call a congregational meeting and rescind the motion to build a new facility. They appointed a new Architectural Committee, first chaired by Jack Templin. That committee worked on possibilities including the Wilbert and Towner building, Jock’s Nitch building, Masonic Lodge, Mirza Temple, northwest corner of 6th and Pine, and worked with architect David Livingood to produce what we have today.

On July 18, 1999, ground was broken to build the new addition. After 12 years of planning and construction, the Pittsburg Presbyterian Church “Celebrates the Miracle” of its new facilities with a dedication ceremony on June 24, 2001. The church added more than 10,000 square feet of space during the expansion, at a cost of $1.7 million.

In 2003, Rev. Bardeen was called to a church in Pennsylvania. Revs. David and Patty Schaller served as Interim Co-Pastors. Chuck Olcese headed the Pastor Nominating Committee.

In December 2005, Rev. K.O. Noonoo was called to The Presbyterian Church of Pittsburg. He began his service in February 2006.