Almost a Century of Christian Life and Service
A Highway For Our God
“Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straght a highway for our God.”
During the first fifty years of its existence, Westminster Presbyterian Church, of Lincoln, Nebraska, has provided a spiritual haven for over 5000 people. It has also been for them a wonderful experience both in preparing a highway for the Lord and in traveling upon it. It is interesting to contemplate how many more people may join this pilgrimage during the next fifty years of Westminster’s service to the Kingdom. Today-at the half century milestone-over 2300 men, women and youths are listed on our active membership rolls.
The Beginnings of Westminster were modest. As is true today, Lincoln was a rapidly growing city. As residential areas developed, the need for neighborhood churches increased also, since city-wide transportation was very limited. The original congregation of our church was made up primarily of people who belonged to the Second Presbyterian Church, which is located at 26th and P Streets. In fact, a Mission Sunday School was established by the Christian Endeavor Society of the Second Church to care for the children and adults in what was then the southeast fringe of the city. The first housing for this project was in the basement of the United Brethren Church located at 28th and E Streets. Here, under the leadership of Reverend C. E. Bradt of Second Church, a Presbyterian Sunday School was established in 1892. Two years later, on April 22, 1894, this Mission Sunday School was moved to the brick business block at 27th and Randolph Streets, where the work continued to prosper. It was then known as the South Mission.
The Presbyterian Alliance, an organization of the Presbyterian Churches of Lincoln, became interested in the project and secured a new site on the corner of 24th and A Streets. Two small cottages were purchased and moved to this site. The cottages were joined together; the partitions were removed, and the first sanctuary, known as the “Pleasant Hill Chapel,” was in existence. One of the charter members and trustees of Westminster, Mr. Theodore F. Randolph, who helped in the remodeling of these two cottages, says that the highway of service that has been and is being built by our church literally got its start as a foot path across open country fields! Mr. Randolph is still an active member of our church and has helped us recall many of these early facts.
On January 19, 1896, the first services were held in Pleasant Hilt Chapel, with Reverend C. E. Bradt preaching the Fourth Anniversary Service. With the opening of this new chapel the Christian Endeavor Society of the Second Church organized Friday night prayer meetings.
The New Church Established
The Lord blessed the consecrated efforts at Pleasant Hill Chapel, and in February, 1904, steps were taken to organize an independent church. At this same time, Second Church relinquished its leadership of the Sunday School to the First Presbyterian Church, and the name was changed from Pleasant Hill Chapel to “Westminster Chapel.” Toward the end of 1904, a canvass of the community showed that fifty persons were ready to become members of the new church. Actually, when a petition for a new church was circulated, sixty one members and nineteen adherents signed it. This petition was presented to a special meeting of the Presbytery of Nebraska City on January 10, 1905. A committee of five, consisting of Dr. Thomas L. Sexton, Synodical Superintendent of Home Missions, Dr. B. M. Long, Dr. W. H. Kearnes, Reverend George Williams, and Reverend Herbert E. Waters was appointed to study this new field and determine where the new church might be located. After investigation, this committee appointed Dr. Sexton, Mr. L. J. Dunn, Mr. H. J. Nichols and Mr. E. E. Mockett as a committee to secure an option on a site at 23rd and Garfield Streets. In March of that year two lots were purchased for $1,075. At the time this location was on the outskirts of Lincoln and there were no paved streets. However, many new homes were being built and it was to prove to be a fertile field for a new church.
In January, 1905, preaching services were conducted in Westminster Chapel by Dr. Thomas L. Sexton, and in February by the Reverend Robert M. Stevenson, D.D., of Omaha. The committee of Presbytery approved the petition for the new church and issued a call for an organization meeting to be held at four o’clock on February 12, 1905 in Westminster Chapel. Dr. Sexton moderated the meeting and Dr. Stevenson preached the sermon. “Westminster Presbyterian Church of Lincoln, Nebraska” was the name formally adopted by the congregation. Mr. A. E. Patch, Mr. Edwin R. Mockett and Mr. Harlan J. Nichols were elected as ruling elders and Mr. Lee J. Dunn, Mr. Theodore F. Randolph, Mr. Edwin R. Mockett, Mr. Ebenezer E. Mockett and Mr. Harlan J. Nichols were elected to serve as trustees.
On March 19, 1905, a call was issued to Dr. Robert M. Stevenson of Omaha, and he was installed as the first pastor of our church on May 5, 1905. Under his leadership, plans were pushed for the erection of a new building at the newly acquired site at 23rd and Garfield Streets. After serving only five months, Dr. Stevenson was elected president of Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah. He resigned his pastorate on October 8, before the new building was actually begun.
At 23rd and Garfield Streets
Ground was broken for the new church at 23rd and Garfield in November, 1905, and construction was started before cold weather came. The Reverend Ralph H. Houseman was called on November 19, 1905, and he began his pastorate on January 5, 1906. By now the communicant membership numbered sixty-two. The first public service was held in the new building on March 26, 1906, and the sanctuary was occupied two months later. This building cost $5,174, and the furnishings $2,096. Dedication services were held on November 3, 1907. In addition to the pastor, Dr. John H. Carpenter and Dr. Charles H. Rogers, pastor of the Plymouth Congregational Church, took part in the service. A few weeks later Mr. Houseman received a call to another field and served Westminster only until the end of the year.
Westminster’s next pastor was the Reverend Howard V. Comin, D.D., who came from Storm Lake, Iowa. He served our church from July, 1908, to October, 1910, in a very effective pastorate.
In March, 1911, the Reverend Rudolph Caughey, of Pawnee City, Nebraska, was installed as Westminster’s fourth pastor. Under his leadership the church experienced a substantial growth both numerically and spiritually. The Church School was serving an ever increasing number of children and young people and the need for larger facilities was soon evident. Mr. Caughey’s pastorate was interrupted by World War I. He enlisted in the National Service Commission and was granted a leave of absence. Upon his return from the chaplaincy, however, he resigned his pastorate in order to accept a call to the Presbyterian Church of Roswell, New Mexico.
Westminster’s fifth pastor was the Reverend William W. Lawrence, D.D. He left his pastorate in Duluth, Minnesota, and began his work in Westminster in April, 1919. Earlier he had served as the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Lincoln. Under the leadership of Dr. Lawrence, the congregation grew steadily, and a campaign for a new building was undertaken. Architect’s plans for a $50,000 building were accepted for the same site, and although considerable funds were pledged, the prohibitive costs of building immediately after the war necessitated a delay. Dr. Lawrence died in September, 1921. The excellent foundation which he had laid and the growing strength of the congregation which now numbered about 250 members enabled the next pastor to carry the building campaign to a very successful conclusion.
A Great Milestone Reached
As stated supply, the Reverend Charles H. Rogers, D.D. served Westminster until the installation of Reverend Paul Covey Johnston, who came to Lincoln from Tekamah, Nebraska, and began his work on January 1, 1922. With his youthful enthusiasm and forceful leadershipDr. Johnston soon won the congregation and the community. The church experienced a decided awakening, and new members were drawn to Westminster in large numbers. The building campaign was revived and a new site at the corner of Sheridan and South Streets was purchased. For the second time Westminster had dared to relocate at the edge of its present parish. The wisdom of this decision, however, soon became evident with the rapid and substantial development of the Sheridan district.
The architect was asked to prepare plans for a church which would accommodate approximately a thousand people, and an educational unit which would house a church school of about the same number of children and young people. The plans thus prepared and submitted called for a complete structure that would cost about $300,000. However, the financial strength of the church was such that only the construction of the sanctuary unit was possible at the time. The chapel and church school units, contained in the original plans were to wait until much later. Ground was broken for the new church in August, 1925. The church property at 23rd and Garfield was sold to the newly organized Martin Luther Church. The ground floor of the new structure was occupied in September, 1926, and the impressive new sanctuary was first used on December 5, 1926.
The dedication of the new church was a great event in the life of Westminster, and attracted prominent church leaders from a wide area. Services of dedication were held on Sunday, May 8, 1927. The pastor, Dr. Paul C. Johnston, preached at the morning service, and Dr. Edwin Hart Jenks, of the First Presbyterian Church of Omaha, delivered the message at the evening service. The program of dedication continued with the observance of a Community Night, a Church School Night and a Musical Night. The singing of the Westminster A Cappella Choir, under the direction of Professor John M. Rosborough, on the Musical Night program, gave clear promise of the contribution this choir was to make for many years to come. The Dedicatory Week was concluded on Sunday, May 15, when the Reverend Samuel Garvin, D.D., pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs, preached the sermon.
One of the special points of pride in the new church was the beautiful Skinner Organ, which was said to be one of the finest instruments in the entire Midwest.
Also worthy of special mention are the stained glass memorial windows. The great east window back of and above the choir was designed and installed by the Gaytee Studios of Minneapolis. At the top of the window is shown the symbols of the Holy Trinity. On the right is the symbol of the Lamp and on the left is the Dove. In the lancet shape openings on shields are the symbols of the Twelve Apostles and the Four Evangelists. The great west window is a reproduction of a window in the Shakespeare Memorial Church at Stratford·on.Avon. There are five symbols across the top: the Goblet, the Dove, the Crown, the Fishes, and the Lamp. With the figure of Christ is the Cross and the Orb signifying the triumph of Christ over the world. The figure medallion work in the lower part of the window is comprised of ten panels. In the three upper panels are the figures of the high priests: Moses, Christ and David (Christ, of course, occupying the central position). Directly beneath are the prophets who spoke of the Advent of Christ. In the four side panels are the four evangelists representing the Gospel.
Under the leadership of Miss Ruth J. Easterday, who served for more than twenty years as the director of Christian education, the church school, in its new quarters, greatly increased in numbers and served a definite need in the fast growing community.
During the sixteen years that Dr. Paul Covey Johnston served our church, the growth of Westminster was very substantial, indicating the role it was playing in the development of Lincoln. Dr. Johnston brought his long pastorate to a close early in 1938, and since has served as pastor of three of the largest churches in our denomination. We are very pleased to have Dr. Johnston return for this Fiftieth Anniversary celebration.
During the latter part of Dr. Johnston’s pastorate, Mr. Donald D. Kettring (who later completed his Seminary work for the Bachelor of Divinity degree and became an ordained Presbyterian minister) was employed as Minister of Music. He served our church for almost seven years, from 1936 to 1943. He established the five choir system in our church. In addition to being an organist and choir director of note, he is an author and composer who is well known in musical circles. It is splendid to have him return and take part in this Fiftieth Anniversary observance.
The Reverend Melvin V. Oggel, D.D., was called to the pulpit of Westminster, and assumed his duties in May, 1938, and continued the strong growth of our church until June, 1943.
After the pastorate of Dr. Oggel, the Reverend Robert G. McGregor served as interim pastor until June, 1944. His services were an inspiration to all, and he was greatly beloved by the congregation. The Rev. S. Willis McKelvey also served as an interim pastor until Westminster called the Reverend Harold F. Wonder, D.D., who began his pastorate in October, 1944. His splendid and devoted service was terminated by his death in September, 1946.
More Adequate Facilities Are Realized
The need for an associate pastor had long been felt in Westminster, and in May, 1946, a call was extended to the Reverend John Douglas Clyde, D.D., who was installed in this position on September 29, 1946, shortly after the death of Dr. Wonder. The spiritual leadership of Dr. Clyde so appealed to the congregation that he was elevated to the full pastorate on December 2, 1946. Under his exceptional leadership, Westminster made its greatest strides forward in recent years in its service to the Kingdom of God. During his eight years as Pastor, the culmination of many of Westminster’s long range plans took place. The beautiful Memorial Chapel was made possible through a beneficient gift to the church, and the congregation conducted a successful fund·raising campaign that resulted in our greatly needed educational unit.
In September, 1947, Miss Ruth J. Easterday, after twenty-three years of devoted and effective service as Director of Christian Education, resigned to accept a call to the staff of the Plymouth Congregational Church of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Miss Easterday had long made her enthusiastic leadership felt both in our church school and in the general activities of the church. She is credited with having nurtured our church school into a program of great worth in the community. We are happy indeed that Miss Easterday is able to return at this time to take part in the Golden Anniversary celebration.
In the fall of 1947, Miss Josephine Waddell came to Westminster as our Minister of Music, following several interim music directors. It should also be noted that Mr. Laurence Gagnier also served for one year as our Minister of Music during this period. Miss Waddell has most ably continued and enlarged the five choir system established by Mr. Kettring, and has developed traditional music programs which the church enjoys each year at different seasons.
An associate pastor was called by our church in May, 1947, to assist Dr. Clyde and to have charge of the church school program. This man was the Reverend O’Linn McGuire, Jr., who became affectionately known to all as “Mickey.” His youth programs, particularly in the high school and college age groups, did much for the continuing growth of the church. Mr. McGuire left Westminster to answer a call to the First Presbyterian Church of Ellsworth, Kansas, in September, 1948.
In October, 1948, Mr. Ted Peterson came to our church as Director of Christian Education, bringing to us many years of youth leadership experience. He left our church to join the staff of the First Presbyterian Church of Salina, Kansas, in November, 1950.
In October, 1948, ground was broken for the erection of a beautiful chapel. A very large portion of the cost was covered by the gift of an anonymous donor. The chapel was completed by Easter, 1951, at a total cost of $135,000. It includes a complete choir room, music library, office for the Minister of Music, and is air-conditioned. The quiet beauty of the chapel, with its rich Christian symbolism, provides a great uplift to the devotional life and worship of our members. It is open daily to the public for rest, meditation and prayer. It stands, as intended by the principal donor, as a real memorial to all the youth of Westminster who have given their lives in service to others. The organ and several of the other furnishings of the chapel stand in memory of particular persons, as provided by those who made the gifts.
The large gift which made our chapel possible, gave impetus to a general fund-raising campaign, which, when successfully completed, made possible the building of our new educational unit. Many hours of dedicated service, both of professional and lay leadership went into the fund raising and the planning of this unit. It is impossible to record here the names of the many who cheerfully assumed the leadership necessary to bring our church to its present effective status. With the completion, in the winter of 1953, of our modern church school unit, which includes a large parlor and recreation room, the long time dream for more adequate space was realized.
Westminster stands today as a trIbute to the many who have prayed, worked and sacrificed that all this might become a reality. As we look to the future, we envision a yet further expansion which will provide a connecting building between the chapel and the educational unit and a carillonic tower standing majestically between the chapel and the main building.
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
For twenty-five years Mrs. Margaret Weiner Guidinger has served Westminster Church. She joined the staff on April 1, 1930 as office secretary and director of the youth program. Long remembered has been her statement to Dr. Johnston upon accepting the position, “Will there be enough work to keep me busy?” The successful Westminster Church of Youth was inaugurated under her leadership, as was the Youth Budget program. Through the years she has been an active leader in the Christian Education department, and serves currently as superintendent of the Junior High division.
Mrs. Guidinger, as church office manager and secretary to the pastor has served under five pastorates and has helped the church through each interim period with her deep understanding and knowledge of the church program and life.
In September, 1950, the Reverend Paul Turner, D.D. came to us as Associate Pastor from the Riverside Presbyterian Church of Riverside, Illinois. Before his brief service to Westminster was terminated by his death in October, 1951, he completely won the hearts of the congregation through his excellence in visitation and outstanding Christian leadership. His passing was grieved by all.
Miss Margaret Pray came to us as Minister of Christian Education in September, 1951, and by virtue of her thorough training and experience, plus a winning personality, continued the good work which had been done before her coming. She was especially successful in developing Westminster’s Church of Youth. Her work with our church ended when she married the Reverend John Goodenberger of Portland, Oregon, in May, 1953.
The Reverend Calvin H. Ukena was called as Associate Pastor and began his work in September, 1952. He came to us from the First Presbyterian Church of Pontiac, Michigan, where he held a similar position. He is continuing his very effective Christian leadership at this time of our Fiftieth Anniversary.
The Reverend Robert H. Laird was called as Associate Pastor and began his work as Minister of Christian Education in January, 1954. He came from the pastorate of the First Presbyterian Church of Loup City, Nebraska. Under his wise and steady leadership, Westminster’s whole program of Christian education is moving forward.
In January, 1954, Dr. John Douglas Clyde resigned in order to accept the position of Associate Secretary in the Central Department of Church Relations of the Presbyterian Board of Christian Education. It is most heart warming to all to have “Doug,” as he is affectionately known to Westminster people, return for our Fiftieth Anniversary and take his rightful place in helping with this important celebration.
The Reverend Asa J. Ferry, D.D. came to us as interim pastor within a few weeks after Dr. Clyde’s leaving. He provided great spiritual guidance as well as most effective organizational leadership during the period prior to the coming of our new pastor. Again it was demonstrated that God took care of our needs by sending us a leader of the finest Christian type.
Our present pastor, the Reverend Frederick A. Roblee, D.D. accepted his call to Westminster in June, 1954 and preached to his new congregation that month, although he did not begin his work among us until September. Dr. Roblee came to us from the First Presbyterian Church of Bay City, Michigan, after fifteen years of outstanding Christian leadership in that city. He also has served our denomination and the church council movement in various capacities during the years. Dr. Roblee’s unusually devoted leadership is appreciated by all, and he has been very helpful in the planning and execution of this Golden Anniversary program.
The record which our congregation has made would be seriously incomplete were we not to speak of those who have gone out from our church into the Christian ministry. The first young man of our church to be ordained to the ministry was the Reverend Ralph Waldo Orr, who is now retired after serving churches in Nebraska, Iowa, Montana and Washington. Mrs. Orr (nee Kate Dunkel) was a charter member of Westminster. The second young man of our congregation to be ordained was the Reverend John C. White, who is now serving as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. Then there is the Reverend Charles R. Hulac, who went out from our church to serve as a foreign missionary in Teheran, Iran. In recent years, several outstanding young men of our congregation have gone into the ministry and are now serving in active pastorates. They are the Reverend Kenneth C. Miller, Pastor of the Presbyterian Church in lola, Kansas; the Reverend D. Stanley Tyner, Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Lead Belt, Flat River, Missouri; the Reverend David W. McShane, Assistant Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Elkhart, Indiana; and the Reverend Roger W. Martin, Assistant Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. Currently the young people of our congregation under the care of the Presbytery are Mr. Duane Wheeler and Mr. Jack Keene, who are students for the ministry, and Miss Georgia Walker, who plans to be a director of Christian education. Miss Karen Beghtol, who assists in our music department, is in preparation for a career in church music.
Westminster has long had a deep interest in Christian outreach through the missionary work of our denomination. In addition to its support of all the work maintained by the General Assembly, we have given special help to Mr. and Mrs. Arthur E. Slater, who have been our missionaries in Etah, India for thirty years. Since January, 1955, we are also giving special help to the Reverend Hendrick Van Dyke, who is the manager of the new radio station which is owned and operated by the Presbyterian Board of National Missions at Sitka, Alaska.
In at least two developments, Westminster has produced plans which have become of interest to the whole Presbyterian Church. Back in the 1930’s, Westminster was a pioneer church in the development of the Youth Budget, and in the 1950’s it was a pioneer in the development of the “unicameral” system of church organization in which all trustees are ruling elders and together constitute one of the four boards of the session.
As we come to the fifty year milestone, we thank God for the many evidences of strength in our work. Among these evidences of strength are the emphases on stewardship and tithing; evangelism and adequate preparation for church membership through adult communicants’ classes; Christian education, necessitating two sessions of our Sunday morning church school beginning this fall; the five·choir program; men’s work; women’s work; couples’ clubs; and study groups. We also are encouraged over the increasingly well-attended Sunday morning services. The observance of this 50th Anniversary will in itself be a great inspiration for all of us.
Thus as we document briefly Westminster’s first fifty years, we cannot help but look forward on God’s Highway of Service that has been built through these years. Just as our founding fathers-that small group of sixty· one earnest Christians–could not possibly have envisioned Westminster as it is today, so we cannot predict or even envision our church fifty years hence. However, one prediction may be made with certainty. Just as God has provided His love, guidance and wisdom to our people during the last half century, so He will guide and direct us into the future, if we continue to build upon the solid rock of Christian truth and purpose. We predict that the centennial celebration in the year 2005 will record another fifty years of glorious pilgrimage.
In January, 1954, John Douglas Clyde resigned in order to accept a position with the Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, and in June of the same year Frederick A. Roblee, D.O., accepted the call to become Westminster’s next Senior Minister. Having come from the First Presbyterian Church of Bay City, Michigan, Frederick Roblee rendered a dedicated pastorate until 1962 when he left to become the Executive Secretary of the Council of Churches in Illinois.
Robert E. Palmer, Ph.D., was called as the pastor of Westminster Church in September, 1963, having previously served a nine year pastorate as Senior Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica, California.
After that time Westminster demonstrated a vigorous and progressive period of growth. Significant strides forward were made in the spiritual life of the congregation, its ministry in Lincoln and the world, and in its concept of mission.
Westminster was served by a growing staff of Ministers, Secretaries, Business Administrators and Custodians. The real secret of Westminster’s vitality and growth, however, lie in the outstanding lay leadership and support of members of the congregation. Since 1963 Westminster was headed in the direction to make it truly one of the outstanding congregations in America. In almost every area of its life, it experienced a rebirth of spirit and an outgrowth of service.
With over 2500 members Westminster became the largest congregation in Lincoln, and the largest Presbyterian church in Nebraska. Its annual budget was then over $400,000.00, and between 1965-1980 more than a million dollars, in addition to the annual budgets, was been pledged toward the Fifty Million Fund and the Major Mission Fund of our denomination, as well as to such causes as property acquisition, new buildings and renovation and remodeling of the existing structures.
A significant strength in Westminster has been the establishment of the Westminster Foundation, now over a half million dollars in assets, and representing the dedicated giving through wills and bequests of many of our members. The income from this foundation is used for building maintenance, property acquisition as well as special projects in music and education. The goal of the Foundation was to increase its size to $1,000,000.00 which would serve a number of purposes in the program life of our congregation, and in addition, it was hoped that the maintenance of our church plant could be undertaken by the Foundation so that certain maintenance and building needs in the future could be eliminated from the regular church budget which could then be focused on the ministry and mission of Westminster.
In 1964 funds were raised which enabled Westminster to air-condition the sanctuary and adjacent rooms, and to complete property acquisition and thus provide Westminster’s first parking facility for approximately 100 cars. We are currently in the process of acquiring additional properties which would enable us to double the size of our present parking area.
In 1967, Westminster engaged in another capital campaign which realized $100,000.00 toward our denomination’s Fifty Million Program for Missions, and also considerable renovation of the existing facilities.
In 1970 additional funds were raised for the further modernization of our sanctuary building, making it not only more attractive but more usable for a growing variety of purposes. Improvements were also made in the education building. Most significantly, our fine and usable Parish House building was dedicated in 1973, providing complete office facilities for our staff, a library, a conference room, a lounge, a youth center, and additional meeting rooms, as well as our delightful garden room area connecting the various buildings in a harmonious way.
In 1973 our congregation engaged in another campaign which enabled us to replace our aging and outworn Skinner Organ with a beautiful new modern $85,000 Casavant instrument.
In 1978 a capital goal of $375,000.00 was exceeded when $450,000.00 was pledged toward our Jubilee campaign which enabled us to make a significant gift toward our denomination’s Major Mission Fund, to enlarge Westminster’s Foundation, to construct the beautiful Memory Lane, and to renovate and remodel completely the aging and outworn West Hall, which will be dedicated during our Jubilee Year as “Cole Hall”. An elevator and/or ramp for elderly and handicapped persons along with additional modifications to be made in our buildings to facilitate their use by such persons were investigated.
In 1980 church staff consists of Dr. Robert E. Palmer, Senior Minster; Rev. Lee Van Ham, Minister of Education; Rev. Wallace E. Easter, Minister of Membership and Evangelism; Rev. Michael M. Mason, Minister of Youth; and Gordon and Helen Betenbaugh, Ministers of Music; along with an extremely competent staff of secretaries and custodians and a business administrator.