CONGREGATIONALISM IN UTAH
Persecuted for defying the Anglican Church, Congregationalists in 1609 fled to Holland, where religious freedom was allowed. However, many became disturbed by the worldly Dutch society. In 1620 a few Congregationalists--the original American Pilgrims--sailed for America, landing at the future Plymouth, Massachusetts. More Congregationalists from Holland and Puritans from England later established other Massachusetts communities. Congregationalism appeared in Salt Lake City in 1865 with the arrival of the Reverend Norman McLeod. Sent by the American Home Missionary Society to carry the gospel of Jesus Christ to Utah, and appointed by General Patrick Connor as chaplain of his army command, McLeod on 22 January 1865 presented the first non-Mormon religious services held in Salt Lake City. He preached in Daft's Hall, which the Gentile Young Men's Literary Association offered, on Sunday mornings and at Fort Douglas on Sunday evenings. A spellbinding anti-Mormon preacher, McLeod drew as many as 150 attendees at a time. Sunday schools at Daft's Hall and the fort were strong by midyear.
Independence Hall was built at Third South, west of Main, with the first services rendered by McLeod on 26 November 1865. The entire Gentile community used the hall. Roman Catholic services began 4 June 1866 and Episcopal services in 1867. Masonic Lodge, Odd Fellows, and political groups were also organized there.
In March 1866 McLeod traveled east to raise money for the Gentile cause. He testified before the committees on territories in Washington, D.C., and lectured in eastern cites on the alleged Mormon problem. Reductions of forces at Camp Douglas after the Civil War and of outside private funds to the Gentiles slowed his return.
McLeod reappeared in 1872, renewing his attacks on Mormonism and supporting the Gentile-organized Liberal party. Independence Hall echoed in the 1872 campaign with his political invective. In October he began a sermon series on the scandals of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, polygamy, and other topics.
The Reverend Walter M. Barrows replaced McLeod in December 1873. Congregationalism prospered with the opening of three classrooms--in Independence Hall, the Salt Lake Academy, and a primary school elsewhere in the city.
In 1881 Barrows resigned and was replaced by the Reverend Frank T. Lee, who remained for two years. In December 1884 Rev. J. B. Thrall arrived and church membership began a rapid increase. In 1890 the Congregationalists sold Independence Hall for $50,000, bought a lot at the corner of First South and Fourth East, and built a church that was 70 by 120 feet for about $40,000. In the spring of 1892 the First Congregational Church sanctuary was opened and by 1896 the church had a membership of more than 300.
Two other Congregational churches were organized in Salt Lake City. The Phillips Church opened in 1887 at Seventh East and Fifth South and the Plymouth Congregational Church at 232 Third North. By 1895 membership at Phillips was over 100. The church sponsored a city missionary, Miss Anna Baker, who taught at various Congregational Sunday schools. A kindergarten ran weekdays for children of working women at a cost of a dollar a month per child.
In 1883 the Congregational Chinese Sunday School and Evening School was started by Miss Annie F. Chapman in a room over a Chinese store; it grew so fast it soon was moved to Independence Hall. The name was changed in 1894 to the Chinese Christian Association and Evening School. It met in rooms of the First Congregational Church five evenings weekly; the Chinese students learned English and studied Christianity. Two Japanese-speaking churches were started in cooperation with the Presbyterian Church--the Japanese Church of Christ in Salt Lake City in 1918 and the Japanese Christian Church in Ogden in 1927.
Beyond Salt Lake City, other Congregational work developed. At Park City a Sunday school started in 1879, and in 1880 Rev. C. W. Hill began services in the New West Education Commission school. A separate church was completed in 1886. In Provo, a church was started in 1881 by the Reverend Frank S. Forbes. The congregation met at the Proctor Academy, another New West Education Commission school, after that edifice was built in 1883.
Congregationalism came to Ogden in 1876 when ten people met with Rev. A. Safford for six months over Driver's Drugstore at 2349 Washington Boulevard. In 1877 Safford left and the church disbanded. In September 1883 a new beginning occurred when Rev. H.E. Thayer began services in the two-room New West Academy at 26th Street and Adams. After the school and church outgrew their quarters, work on a two-story brick school building began, and a new church arose next door. Much of the money for both structures was raised by Mrs. Lydia M. Bailey, wife of the minister, the Reverend A.J. Bailey. She spoke to churches in twelve states and raised $11,500 during a five-month eastern tour. Four satellites of the Ogden First Congregational Church arose, at Five Points in Ogden, at Slaterville, at Coalville, and at Echo. Ogden ministers served these groups intermittently.
In 1878 Congregationalists began their crusade to win over Mormon children by endeavoring to provide superior education with the establishment of the Salt Lake Academy. Many women raised money for the schools or went to Utah to teach. Of the forty-two Congregational teachers in Utah in 1887, thirty-seven were women. It was thought that highly educated single women would be worthy models for Mormon women supposedly suffering under polygamy.
By 1883 thirty-three schools had been established in Bingham, Lehi, Bountiful, Coalville, Morgan, Hoytsville, Sandy, Park City, Echo, Centerville, Ogden, Provo, Heber, Midway, Wanship, South Weber, Lynne, Henefer, Oak Creek, Oxford, Huntsville, Kamas, Slaterville, Stockton, Hooper, and Salt Lake City. By 1890 some 2,500 students a year were enrolled in thirty-six schools. Tuition was free.
The growing pressure of Gentile education plus a provision of the Edmunds-Tucker Act making the territorial superintendent of schools appointive rather than elective caused the Mormon Church to establish its own independent parochial school system. After 1890 Gentile education, particularly Congregational education, began to decline in Utah. One reason was that, since after 1890 polygamy was no longer acceptable to the Mormon Church, many eastern Protestants decided Mormonism had become respectable and that no further effort was needed. Another reason was that the Panic of 1893 wiped out trust funds for education in the territory. A final factor was the establishment of national political parties in Utah and the granting of statehood in 1896.
By midcentury the Plymouth Church in Salt Lake City had become defunct, but new churches arose. The growth of Orem through the development of the U.S. Steel plant brought the need for a Protestant church. The Orem Community Church was organized as a non-denominational parish in 1951 and joined the Congregationalists in 1953.
In Provo, the Congregational educational mission ended with the closing of Proctor Academy in 1920, but in 1924 a kindergarten opened. The Community Congregational Church became a strong influence in the community, sponsoring the Christian College Fellowship as a spiritual home for non-Mormon students at Brigham Young University and (later) those at Stevens Henager College and Utah Technical College.
The First Congregational Church of Salt Lake City continued to grow, partly with the addition of former members of the Phillips Church, and in 1965 built a new and larger church on Foothill Drive.
Madeline Gile, a Massachusetts native who became a licensed minister, kept the Bountiful church going. She taught in Congregational schools in Bountiful and Coalville from 1910 to 1917, supervised Sunday schools at Sandy, Lehi, and Ogden Five Points, and primarily led in Bountiful until 1935. In 1954 a prayer chapel was built to replace Bliss Hall, a stone school building constructed in 1882. An educational building was erected in 1961 and a large sanctuary in 1971.
In Ogden, a new building was constructed in 1961 at 3350 Harrison Boulevard. Southeast of Salt Lake City in Holladay, the first Protestant church in the area was formed by Congregationalist minister Macon Cowles in 1953 and is known as the Holladay Community Church (United Church of Christ). The United Church of Christ is active in Shared Ministry, a covenantal community of six mainline Protestant denominations throughout Utah, western Wyoming, and southern Idaho. Established in 1977 when state judicatories of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) joined with the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and United Methodist Church, Shared Ministry was joined by the United Church of Christ (UCC), American Baptist Convention, and African Methodist Episcopal Church. With sixty-five congregations, Shared Ministry is the only organization of its type in the nation.
In Kanab, in 1987 the UCC, Presbyterian, United Methodist, and Christian churches through shared Ministry formed the United Church of Kanab-Fredonia, the only four-denomination church in Utah and one of few nationally. With Rev. Gene Robinson, pastor since 1991, this church is a vital force in southwestern Utah.
Being free churches, not all Congregationalists agreed with this ecumenism. The First Congregational Church in Salt Lake City declined to accept union with the Evangelical and Reformed Church and belongs to the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches. Although the congregation does not participate in Shared Ministry or in the Campus Christian Fellowship of these denominations on eight Utah college campuses, members have a friendly relationship with the UCC and lead in Church Women United and many community endeavors.
Disclaimer: Information on this site was converted from a hard cover book published by University of Utah Press in 1994. Any errors should be directed towards the University of Utah Press.