A True Pioneer Church
In February 1870, a missionary with a gift for organizing churches began his new assignment from the Presbyterian Synod of Iowa to be "Superintendent of Missions" for "Western Iowa, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and All the Regions beyond." The tireless Reverend Sheldon Jackson turned his attention to Boulder in early 1872. Several months of his intensive visitation drew sufficient interest and commitment that, on November 9, 1872, the Reverend W.Y. Brown, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Denver, and ten charter members organized the First Presbyterian Church of Boulder. Mr. John E. Anderson was installed as the first pastor on October 19, 1873; H.B. Rosenkrans was elected the first ruling elder in 1874. The first building of the Presbyterian Chapel, where first services were held in 1876, sat 200 and cost about $3,500.
Chapel Added in 1894
In 1894, during the pastorate of Rev A.H. Tevis, the Chapel was erected at a cost of about $10,000 to serve a total church membership of 183. The chapel, with bell tower and rose window, was dedicated on May 17, 1896, after the construction debt was paid off. The architect, F.E. Kidder, also built Chautauqua auditorium in Boulder. His original plan called for a steeple, but it was modified when the cost became prohibitive. The stained glass windows were designed by Leota Way.
Near the end of the 19th century, the Rev. William Robson Notman and the Rev. Harmon B. McQuilken were called to minister to the congregation and to the students at the University of Colorado, respectively. Through Rev. Notman’s influence, Andrew Carnegie donated a pipe organ that served the church for the next 40 years. It was replaced in the 1940s by a Reuter Pipe Organ, which remained at the church until the present organ was installed in 1979.
The Rev. H. B. Hummel began his ministry of nine years in 1910 and helped celebrate our 40th anniversary in November 1912.
Westminster Hall Dedicated in 1928
In the fall of 1920, the Rev. Robert Karr became pastor, remaining until 1924. During his pastorate, 550 members were added to the membership. During the pastorate of the Rev. Campbell Coyle, form 1925 to 1931, Westminster Hall was erected at a cost of $75,000. It was dedicated on April 1, 1928. On the top floor, the Student Pastor, Rev. Frank L. Greenway, conducted the religious activities of the students.
The 60th anniversary of our church was celebrated during the ministry of the Rev. Norman Nygaard in 1932. The Rev. John Henry Sanders came to the church in 1935, serving thirteen years. Under his leadership, the church added 1,500 new members. Elder Robert S. Gardner presented the church with an electric organ the same year. Mr. Gardner also donated a manse at 1011 10th Street as a memorial to the church in 1940.
In 1946, during the ministry of Dr. Sanders, the Chapel was remodeled, and a balcony was added at the south end to meet the needs of a growing congregation.
Sunday School Grows in the 1950s
When Sunday School classes swelled in the 1950s, Geneva Hall was constructed to accommodate more classrooms. At the same time, in 1956, Westminster Hall was completely renovated and redecorated under the supervision of Hobart D. Wagener, architect and elder, with Pietro Belluschi, Dean of Architecture at M.I.T. as consultant. Cost was $250,000.
Following the pastorate of Dr. Sanders and interim pastors Frank Greenway and Ellis Steen, the Rev. Raymond I. Brahams, Sr., began his ministry. He added a full-time church secretary to the staff and laid the foundation and long range plans for the purchasing of property and the building of Geneva Hall. After a vital ministry of two years, he became ill and had to resign. After an interim, supplied by the Rev. Frank B. McCuskey, the Rev. Joseph A. Vance and the Rev. Alfred S. Nickless, the Rev. Ralph Evans was called as Senior Pastor. The church grew and prospered during his ministry (1951-1962). Dr. Robert Mayo served from 1963 to 1966, and Dr. Robert N. Oerter was called to be the Senior Pastor in 1966.
The Oerter Era
Dr. Oerter (Dr. Bob, as most affectionately called him) served our growing congregation for more than 23 years, until his retirement from active ministry in 1989, after which he continued to preach occasionally through November 1990. Besides his compelling joy in his faith and his love for all God’s creation, one of the greatest gifts he brought the First Pres community was his ministry of reconciliation. Through this he was able to unite a congregation that reflected (and still reflects) a wide variety of backgrounds, expectations, and theological emphases. Dr. Bob went to be with his Lord on January 1, 1991.
In the 1970s and ’80s, the church expanded in many areas, especially in its programs. Christian education classes for adults, expanded youth programs, fellowship groups, choirs, singles ministry, university ministry, the counseling ministry, and senior adult ministry were added to fit the diverse ages, needs, and interests of the congregation. During this period, the number of staff also greatly increased to resource the ever-growing programs.
Centennial and the Building of a New Sanctuary
In the spring of 1970, as the centennial of the church’s existence approached, the Session appointed a Purpose and Strategy Committee to review the First Pres mission and program. As a result, a Facilities Planning Committee appointed in March 1971 prepared a master plan for utilizing the entire city block bounded by 15th and 16th Streets, Walnut Street, and Canyon Boulevard—a fitting accompaniment to the 1972 Centennial Celebration.
Among the Centennial activities was the publication of a hard-bound history of First Pres, A Pioneer Church ("a Reverently Realistic Account of the First Presbyterian Church of Boulder, Colorado, in its Total Pioneer Origin"). Written by Dr. John Schooland, who also wrote Boulder Then and Now, the book was the designated memorial for the Centennial; a copy was given to each person who contributed $5 to the Centennial Memorial Fund.
Meanwhile, the Facilities Planning Committee, working with architects William Muchow and Peter Dominick, Jr., was working on an ambitious plan that would double the church facilities to serve the membership of about 1,930 people. Their work was based on careful conceptual planning based on staff and congregational input. In an important assessment of the church mission echoed 20 years later in another building campaign, an interim report of the committee, ratified unanimously by the congregation in 1972, affirmed "We accept gratefully our responsibility to be a strong, central church serving the entire Boulder community."
The $1.3-million building project expanded the church onto the south half of the block, across a dirt alley that ran between 15th and 16th Streets. The old sanctuary on the northeast corner was divided into the current Chapel and Sheldon Jackson Parlor, while the original kitchen serving Westminster Hall was converted into bathrooms. To the south, the Narthex and Sanctuary were added. A one-story row of music and preschool rooms ran along Canyon, while a new multipurpose room, large kitchen, and west hallway completed a square around a new fellowship courtyard. The new Sanctuary was opened in 1975.
The Annex and Change
In the early 1980s the church took advantage of an opportunity to expand both parking and youth activity space with the purchase of the J.W. Brewer Tire Company building on the southwest corner of 16th and Walnut Street. Now called the Annex, the refurbished space is used for classrooms and high school activities.
In 1983, following Bob Oerter’s heart surgery, the church voted to have a co-pastorate to allow Dr. Bob to continue in a less demanding position. This position was held by H. Warren Wilkewitz, who continued as Senior Pastor after Dr. Bob’s retirement in 1989. Warren Wilkewitz resigned January 11, 1990. Dr. Dean Hendricks was called to serve an interim pastorate while the church conducted a search for a new head pastor.
The Recent Past
In May of 1992, Dr. Peter Barnes was called to be Senior Pastor. He brought a spirit of excitement, vitality, and optimism to the church, which was reflected in a reexamination of our church’s role in the community and our society, and escalated growth in all ministry areas. Membership at the beginning of 1999 stood at 2,256, with a budget of approximately $2.5 million.
Growth efforts included a major facilities redevelopment program to expand church spaces and refurbish an aging physical plant. In January 1999 we completed the first phase of that project with a new Children’s Wing and Atrium, an expanded and remodeled Sanctuary, and remodeled fellowship hall which was named in honor of Robert N. Oerter.
Over the next few years, our church, like many other mainstream Protestant churches, saw changes in membership and attendance patterns and an interest in new worship styles. We continued planning for the next facilities redevelopment phase, focusing primarily on the aging kitchen, adult classrooms, youth facilities, and physical plant upgrades. Simultaneously, we explored alternative worship offerings, introducing a Sunday evening “emergent worship” service (North).
In Our Day
In early 2008, faced with economic pressures and changing demographics, the decision was made to discontinue the emergent worship program along with our counseling program to better align our services with our resources. At the same time comprehensive facilities renovation plans were scaled back to address our most urgent needs, and church leaders initiated new communication efforts to expand their range of contacts with church members and friends.
Dr. Barnes resigned as of January 6, 2009, to accept a call in Austin, Texas. Dr. Gary Stratman was called to serve as interim senior pastor beginning July 1, 2009, to offer leadership and guidance as the church prepares for a new senior pastor and a new season of Christian service within our community and abroad.
In July of 2012 the congregation unanimously approved Rev. Erik Hanson as Pastor/Head of Staff.
In January Session commissioned a team to draft this plan to be adopted by our church. This team of lay people, elders, and staff were asked to utilize three previous important self-studies for its work going forward: the Ministry Master Plan (2004), the Mission Study (2010), and the Church Information Form (2011). In August 2013, Session enthusiastically adopted the resulting plan “Go Deep. Live Wide. Be Rooted.