Hazel Park Congregational
United Church of Christ
On February 2, 1894, Dr. Samuel George Smith chaired a meeting of interested parties to found a mission church on Saint Paul’s east side. Dr. Smith had established the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota and was founder and pastor of Peoples Church, which in the 1950s, was demolished for the right-of-way of Interstate 35E. The congregation moved to a location on Snelling Avenue and became Peoples Highland Church.
As a result of the meeting, a congregation called Peoples Church of Hazel Park was created on the developing east side. Records show that there were 26 total members on October 24, 1895.
An Ecclesiastical Council met on November 12, 1895, at Peoples Church of Hazel Park for the primary purpose of receiving official recognition from the Congregational Association. Representatives came from the Congregational churches of Plymouth, Park, Peoples, Atlantic, Bethany, Merriam Park, South Park, and Milton Street. Dr. Smith presided and Peoples Church of Hazel Park was received into the fellowship of Congregational churches.
Records for the period 1897 to 1908 have been lost, but apparently a modest frame church was built in the late 1890s on White Bear Avenue, south of what is now Maryland Avenue.
The area south of the church location continued to develop and street car service was extended to the neighborhood. Hazel Park’s Reverend, G.R.G. Fisher, urged the congregation to move south. With the aid of Dr. Samuel Smith, an appeal was made for a loan to the Congregational Church Building Society. A loan of $600 was secured but was only available after the building was moved and renovated.
A Major Transition
Amid the cloudy atmosphere of the beginning of World War I, plans were made for the physical moving of the church building. In early December 1914, the structure was mounted on large rollers and moved down the graveled White Bear Avenue. A winch was used, driven by horses circling to wind the ropes attached to the church. The destination was several blocks away where a foundation had been prepared at the intersection of White Bear Avenue and Harvester (now Case) Street. The route included the challenge of crossing the Chicago Northwestern railroad tracks; but with good workmen and favorable weather, the move was completed in two weeks. A rededication service for the structure was held on January 10, 1915.
During the uncertain times of World War I, Peoples Church of Hazel Park suffered extreme financial difficulties and the Minnesota Congregational Conference stepped in to organize the congregation in a closer relationship to the denomination. A new constitution and by-laws were adopted on November 16, 1916, and the name of the church was changed to Hazel Park Congregational Church (HPCC).
With the end of the war, young men returned from the service, young couples were married, and church membership increased. Under Pastor A.H. Norum’s leadership, 1919 was a year of revival with 18 new members joining increasing the total membership to 43.
A major doctrinal difference then arose, as a faction of the congregation favored the Unitarian theology of one God rather than the Trinity. The schism became so great that Pastor Norum and church officers resigned. By the summer of 1925, membership had dropped from 88 to 37 members.
Mr. Ezra Meckel, a lay person who had studied at the Chicago Theological Seminary, took over the pastorate at this time. By March 1926, membership had increased to 61.
The tenure of HPCC pastors was short during the first 40 years of the church, but in the spring of 1926, Rev. E.L. Callendar began a six-year pastorate. He was described as a very sedate man who wore a black frock coat and gray striped pants “even in summer.” Contributing members increased from 28 to 62, and 100 new families were involved with the church.
The Effects of the Great Depression
In the years of the Great Depression, men of the congregation paid the pastor’s grocery account and members used part of their coal supply to heat the church. At an annual meeting on January 11, 1933, the financial strain put on many families was discussed and it was decided that a collection would be taken every Wednesday evening to help these families.
In October 1933, a call was issued to English-born Rev. Charles Schofield. After a three-month trial period, Rev. Schofield was hired permanently for a monthly salary of $100, $25 of which was supplied by the Minnesota Conference. A grocer of the congregation extended credit to the pastor, and again, church members paid the account from time to time.
During the Schofield years, the building was stuccoed and interior repairs made with a loan from the Congregational Union and the Minnesota Conference. Labor was donated by unemployed men of the congregation. Sometime during this period, a hot-air furnace (or “one-lunger”) was secured from the soon-to-be-razed Majestic Theater building located between 7th and 8th on Cedar Street.
By 1937, congregational discontent led to the resignation of Rev. Schofield and the possibility of closing the church. Church members held potluck suppers to raise money for fuel, and Rev. Robert Hasken served as a part-time pastor. Despite these difficulties, a 1938 report shows membership rose to 125, a doubling of Sunday school enrollment, and a church-sponsored Boy Scout Cub pack of 40 boys.
The End of World War II
In 1944, as the end of World War II approached, the Hazel Park Masonic Lodge expressed interest in purchasing the church building. Negotiations began and the congregation voted to sell the structure at White Bear and Case for $7,500. Eight lots were purchased on Van Dyke Street between Minnehaha and Reaney, the present site of Hazel Park Congregational United Church of Christ. At the 1945 annual meeting, 71 new members were reported, bringing the total membership to 200.
With the end of the war, military camps were being dismantled around the country, and the Hazel Park congregation decided to purchase a mess hall structure and transport it from its base in Alabama. The sections were delivered without any instructions, and the guessing game of which eight-foot panel fit with another began! The structure was erected by 25 to 30 volunteers working at a time on weekends and after work. Rafters were raised by hand.
What emerged was a substantial, practical building with vestibule, worship, and social spaces, and a kitchen behind the altar. Illumination was impressively supplied by electric chandeliers garnered from a mortuary. The structure was dedicated in the early summer of 1947. A parsonage was built a year later in 1948.
The 1950s were a period of considerable growth for HPCC. In 1951, a building campaign was launched, and in 1952 a $90,000 mortgage was approved for the construction of a $105,000 building project. The new building was completed and dedicated in 1953. By 1954, HPCC was reported to be the largest Congregational church in Saint Paul with 708 members!
In 1957, the old chapel was sold and moved, and fundraising began for a new two-story brick fellowship hall and Sunday school facility. The new building was erected on the site of the old chapel and was completed in 1958. New pews, chancel furniture, a memorial organ, and hymnals were purchased. A parking lot was also installed on Reaney Street.
By 1960, HPCC had 1,052 members, making it the fifth largest Congregational body in the Twin Cities metropolitan area and the sixth largest in Minnesota!
In 1961, HPCC voted to become part of the merger of the Evangelical, Reformed, and Congregational Christian denominations. The resulting merged denomination became known as the United Church of Christ, and Hazel Park became Hazel Park Congregational United Church of Christ (HPCUCC).
On September 1, 1963, the Rev. Everett Manes began a pastorate that would last nearly ten years. Establishment of United Theological Seminary in New Brighton brought new resources to metro area churches, and HPCUCC had a succession of seminarians on staff from the seminary. The Manes pastorate also brought the first Minister of Visitation, Rev. Russell Dierdorff.
On October 7, 1973, Rev. John C. Heal was installed as pastor and began the longest pastorate in the church’s 100 years. Over the next 15 years, he continued the arrangement with United Theological Seminary for use of seminarians, re-established the Minister of Visitation position, and helped the congregation celebrate its 80-year history in 1975.
The Church Fire
Then on Sunday morning, June 13, 1976, HPCUCC suffered a terrible disaster. At 11:30 a.m., about 30 minutes after the morning service, a youngster interrupted a meeting of the Diaconate to tell of a fire. Within a brief time, the flames were out of control and the sanctuary and narthex were totally destroyed. Thankfully, firefighters were able to save the structure that housed the Sunday School rooms, office, Fireside Room, and Fellowship Hall. Almost miraculously, the Bible on the communion table was only scorched at the edges. It is displayed today in the rebuilt narthex as a symbol of the spirit of HPCUCC.
The cause of the fire was never determined, but it is suspected that the wiring or other mechanism of an organ installed the previous year may have been the culprit.
Church members came together to rebuild the church, and through dedication, much hard work, and a favorable insurance settlement, construction began the following spring. In the meantime, services were held in the Fellowship Hall with hymnals donated by neighborhood churches and a South Dakota Congregational church.
The cornerstone of our present sanctuary was laid December 4, 1977, and the building was dedicated a week later.
During the early 1980s, the congregation continued to grow and a second minister was added to the staff. Membership during this period was about 750.
A Time of Transition
The period following Rev. Heal’s retirement in 1988 was one of transition. As the national organization of the United Church of Christ continued to welcome all people regardless of race, age, or sexual orientation, HPCUCC struggled with its search for a unified direction and sufficient financial support to carry on its mission. The church’s inability to resolve those issues lead to resignation of both of its pastors, Rev. Hal Spann and Rev. Shirley Stoos, as well as a significant reduction in membership.
In October of 1991, Rev. Neal Kentch came to HPCUCC as Interim Minister. Rev. Kentch began the healing process using his genuine warmth, humble, and often humorous style. HPCUCC slowly regained its stability both financially and spiritually, although at a lower level than the high points of the mid-1980s.
Rev. Richard Nichols accepted the call as pastor in May 1992 and worked at helping HPCUCC regain its strength and vitality. HPCUCC marked its 100-year anniversary in 1995, and in its effort to make its Fellowship Hall accessible to all people, finished the addition of an elevator in May 1999.
As Hazel Park Congregational UCC entered into the new millennium the conscious choice was made to define the mission within the definition of Progressive Christianity and the United Church of Christ’s vision that God is Still Speaking.
After 14 years of ministry, Rev. Nichols decided to move on to another congregation.