1856 - September 19
Organization of First Congregational Church of Newton
Rev. E.P. Kimball, first pastor called
1858 - October 4
First church building dedicated
Belfry and bell added
Abandoned kerosene lamps and added electricity
Organization of Christian Workers Society for women (active until 1952)
Dedication of second church building, Membership 170
Plymouth Guild organized for women, Mayflower group for girls
1917 - January 14
Building destroyed by fire
1918 - May 5
Present building and parsonage (now Parish House, offices) completed
Newton Community Children's Center opened in our building
Sponsored Vietnemese family (the Nguyen family) with First Presbyterian Church
Lakota mission connection began (continued until 2012)
First Fuller Scholarship (for undergraduates) awarded
New west entrance with elevator and accessible bathrooms completed
Rev. Jessica R. Petersen, first female pastor called
Looking Back: 1856 to present
The Congregational United Church of Christ has a long and exciting history. Our church was originated September 19, 1856 by a group of eleven men meeting in the old Methodist Church. In the winter of 1857, before a church building was erected, Rev. Edward P. Kimball, who had volunteered to work in the west, left the historic church in Plymouth, Massachusetts, to become our first called pastor.
During the pastorate of Rev. Enoch Bartlett, our second minister, the first church building was built. The succeeding nine ministers' length of service may reveal a struggle of those early years since none of them served more than four years.
In 1890, Rev. Charles C. Harrah commenced his pastorate. The well-known Harrah's show place in Reno, Nevada, was owned by a member of Rev. Harrah's family. Under his leadership a new church manual was adopted and the first women's group in the church was organized, calling itself the Christian Workers Society. In 1892, a new church building was dedicated free of debt. A year later a pipe organ was placed in the new church. In May of 1894, the General Association of Congregational Churches of Iowa met with the Newton Church.
On January 14, 1917, when Rev. George C. Williams was minister, the church building was destroyed by fire. Some of our long-time members recall that when the second church structure burned, the bell in the church belfry rang incessantly. Items from the second church salvaged from the fire are retained in our present historical display. For several months services were held either in the Baptist Church, at that time just across the street from the Congregational property, or in the Assembly room of the Court House.
On May 5, 1918, the present church building and parish house were dedicated. Rev. Williams served the Newton Church from 1914 to 1930, the longest pastorate during the church's first century. Under the leadership of Rev. Howard F. Boardman, the church celebrated its Centennial in 1956 with many memorable ceremonies.
At the 110th Annual meeting of the First Congregational Church, January 13, 1966, in the Maytag Hotel Ballroom, new articles of incorporation and bylaws were approved and the name of the church was officially changed to the Congregational United Church of Christ.
1968 was a "landmark" year for this community because of action taken by a committee of forward-thinking members of our church. A Newton Community Children's Center was established. A non-profit venture, four other local churches assisted in the operation: First Lutheran, Our Savior Lutheran, First Christian, and First Presbyterian. The following year it was reported that 79 children had been cared for since opening. Then, in 1971, Vera Peck donated the Peck Development Center to the Iowa Department of Social Services in memory of her husband, Clyde. The Center was able to accommodate 40 children during the day while parents were at work. The Center was dedicated in 1972.
A new parsonage was constructed in 1960 at a cost of $25,000, and the Rev. Richard Schroeder and his family were the first to occupy the official church residence in 1961. Prior to that time our ministers resided in the former parsonage attached to the main church building. The Parish House was mortgaged for $16,800 in 1967 to provide funds for a major renovation of the church building exterior. Extensive repairs were also made on the organ.
In 1975, the congregation together with the First Presbyterian Church brought a Vietnamese family to Newton and showed them the warm lifestyle of our community and the Midwest. Many of our members were involved in tutoring and helping them adjust to the “American way of life.” They left Newton the following year to join relatives in New Orleans.
With the resignation of Rev. Phillip Friedeman in 1979, we had the great fortune to enjoy the interim services of the Rev. Edwin W. Frohardt who had stepped down from the pulpit at the Newton Methodist Church. His wife, Myra, joined in our church activities and also sang in the choir.
Rev. David Raymond answered our call to serve as our pastor in 1981, which was just in time to share in the celebration of our 125th anniversary. We marked this milestone with an old fashioned ice cream social on July 9, 1981. Rev. Raymond remained with us for 20 years, and his pastorate became the longest in our church’s history. His interest in people and the community was appreciated by his parishioners.
In 1983, the first scholarship from our Seminary Scholarship Fund was awarded. Dwight and Opal Smith wanted to do something to reach out in ministry beyond the congregation. After Opal’s death, Dwight responded to a need of seminary students who were burdened with tremendously high loans, and the Congregational UCC Seminary Scholarship Fund was established. It is awarded to local individuals as well as to those from the Central Association or the Iowa Conference to attend seminary.
In 1991, our church became aware of the need for funds and workers to help maintain the church buildings on the Standing Rock and the Cheyenne River Reservations. After touring the churches on the reservation, Elkhorn Hill Church was selected as our partner church to receive our aid. An annual journey was made to help repair the buildings and sometimes conduct summer church school. For those who went, this became more than a work week; the workers became friends and shared a spiritual bond with those whom they met. Rev. Good Bear and some of the Lakota teens came to our church in 1992 to share themselves in our Vacation Bible School and to give a view of Rev. Good Bear’s ministry, which helped to strengthen the relationships between the two congregations.
In 1995, the Evelyn and Max Fuller Scholarship Fund was established to benefit the lives of our church’s young adults. The Fullers, who were active members of our church before their deaths, established the Fund as and educational legacy for our youth. Scholarships are to be awarded to young adults from our congregation who are seeking to earn a 4-year undergraduate degree. The first two scholarships were awarded in 1996. Since then a total of $155,000 has been awarded to youth of our church.
In 1996, the Diaconate formed as sub-committee, the Health Ministry Board, to give us a professional ministry in the development and carrying out of health care programs. Our first parish nurse, Carolyn Hobbs, continues today to promote the health of our faith community through the integration of the body, mind, and spirit even years after her retirement. As in Christ’s teachings of caring for each other, we continue to seek to develop creative new ways to nurture holistic wellness and healing.
Our church library was created by Vera Peck in memory of her husband, Clyde. It was established in a small room off the Guild Room, as it was then called. It was furnished with religious books as well as a variety of other books on secular subjects. In later years, plans were made for a new and expanded library. The library was moved to the Fireplace Room (its name at the time) and was dedicated in October 1999. At first the books were purchased with the gifts given in memory of friends and loved ones; however, now both memorials and a special budget help us to purchase new books.
Our congregation joined the 21st Century with state of the art technology. Through the generosity of our previous members who left memorials, the church was air conditioned, received a new sound system, purchased tape (and more recently, digital) recorders to record our services for our homebound members, became computerized, and received a video projector. Perhaps the most valuable advancement is the elevator which enables us to reach all four levels of the main church building.
Access 2000 became one of the grandest projects our church has undertaken. The project included a spacious new entrance, an elevator, and handicap accessible restrooms. An architect was hired who could match the stones and brick from the old church building in the new facade so it would be impossible to determine that it was not part of the original structure. This renovation allowed us to become accessible to all who seek to engage in the life of this congregation and worship God.
Following Rev. Raymond’s departure in 2000, we searched for our next called pastor, interim pastors Rev. David E. O’Rourke and Rev. Terry S. Slinde ministered to the church’s needs. In 2003, we called Rev. Michael B. Dack to serve as our pastor; he served us until 2009. Rev. Greg Ellcey served us well during the interim period, until we called our first female pastor, Rev. Jessica R. Petersen, in 2011.
The people who have served and worshiped here as members and friends of Congregational United Church of Christ over the past 160 years have made this congregation who we are today: A community of God's beloved dedicated to following the teachings of Jesus as we live our faith by loving and serving all of God's creation and striving for justice and peace throughout our community, our nation, and the world.