For more than 110 years, the community of faith known as Union Avenue Christian Church has worshiped God and studied the teachings of Jesus Christ in an urban setting … in the heart of the city of St. Louis … in a grand and spectacular space built to honor the glory of God. We are fortunate to have been led in worship by pastors who were (and are) first and foremost outstanding teachers. We have developed a tradition of choral music in worship that is unmatched and greatly admired. We have a long-standing commitment to ecumenical pursuits and reaching out into the community to share from our abundance. And the lay leadership of this congregation has always underscored the importance of religious education in the life of the people of God.
It’s the people of Union Avenue Christian that make this community of faith unique. We are a blend of young and old, working class and middle class, conservative and progressive working together to make a difference in our world.
A Look Back to the Past
Union Avenue Christian Church’s heritage dates back to the origin of the communion that has come to be known as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). In 1837, 28 years after the founding of Brush Run Church in West Virginia, Disciples of Christ first appeared in St. Louis and met in members’ homes. In 1842 more came following the call of “wherever two or more are gathered in my name.” Opposite the St. Louis Courthouse on Fourth Street, the First Christian Church soon was founded.
With the movement west, Central Christian Church began in 1871 and Mt. Cabanne Christian Church in 1892. A merger on October 13, 1902 — a great and difficult decision for these two congregations — created Union Avenue Christian Church (UACC). With courage and faith the land on which a church would be built was purchased at the corner of Union Avenue and Von Versen (now Enright).
In 1904, the educational building was completed. James M. Philputt, the first pastor, brought much attention to the church, and although the panic of 1907 brought financial anxiety, the sanctuary was completed in 1908. The edifice of the structure was designed by A.B. Groves in the Italian Romanesque style. In 1910, B.A. Abbott became our second pastor and served during the difficult years of World War I. A bronze plaque in the narthex honors those from Union Avenue who served in the first World War.
A Revolving Cross Lights the Way
In 1918 George A. Campbell began his 20-year pastorate at Union Avenue. In 1921 Oreon Scott (local businessman, philanthropist and member of UACC) gave Union Avenue Christian Church a revolving cross that reached above the belfry and became a symbol to the city of our commitment to the Christian faith. By 1922 the membership had grown to 1,259 members and an endowment fund was established to secure the church's future. In 1926 Our Church, UACC’s newsletter, was begun. In 1927 Charles Lindbergh flew the Atlantic in the Spirit of St. Louis and UACC retired its debt.
In 1928 a group of deaf people prevailed upon our church to be their church home. As the “Silent Bereans,” many deaf members have been instrumental in the life of Union Avenue. In 1932 there were 1,760 members and 700 registered in the church school. Weekly Christian education continues to this day as a crucial and integral part of our church program.
The year 1938 brought Hampton Adams as our spiritual leader. Dr. Campbell wrote about Dr. Adams’ coming, prophetically describing the future minister’s character: “Although he has convictions that hold him to the highest, he also has an open mind hospitable to good people of all communions and to the truth of God wherever found.” Adams served until 1954.
A Vote To Remain Steadfast
By 1940 populations in St. Louis had shifted, and the members of the congregation voted to remain in the city at its current location as a truly metropolitan church. The year 1942 brought a gift of a wood carving by Alois Lang of DaVinci’s “Last Supper,” and in 1945 work was begun on modernizing the educational building, completely transforming the original space. A beautiful chapel was also built (honoring the 20-year pastorate of Dr. Campbell) containing a stained glass window symbolizing Dr. Campbell’s vision of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The window was designed and produced in the studio of Emil Frey.
In 1952 Union Avenue Christian Church celebrated 50 years of Christian fellowship with its then 2,215 members and an endowment of $100,000. G. Curtis Jones, an outstanding preacher and writer, came to the pulpit in 1955 and served until 1962. In 1957 the church was the recipient of a generous gift of a magnificent stained glass window for the sanctuarychancel. The window, designed and executed in the studio of J. Whippell and Company of Exeter, England, is the central feature of the chancel. It was given to the congregation by Mellcene Thurman Smith in memory of her mother. The window depicts the 23rd Psalm with Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Across the center of the window, a great arch follows the arch of the
chancel itself and is said to symbolize the beneficence of God and the hospitality of the Christian faith. A major renovation of the sanctuary, building remodeling, and a 60-space parking lot were completed in 1958. Support for the brotherhood, Board of Religious Organizations, Boy Scouts, St. Louis Christian Children’s Home, and many other worthy causes were helped by our church in these years.
Walter F. MacGowan became pastor in 1964. A great preacher with a great singing voice and compassion for the members, he led us through a period full of change. As population in the city of St. Louis decreased, so did UACC’s membership, as numerous Disciples churches sprouted in the suburbs. Union Avenue Christian Church remained steadfast in its commitment to be a beacon of faith and hope for the city.
Many outreach programs were begun to help the community during these times. Joint Community Ministries (a coalition of neighborhood congregations) helped families in the community and operated a preschool for several years in our building. Northwest Meals on Wheels was started at our church, and the West End Players Guild, a community theater company, found a home with us. Gene Lamb served as minister from 1982 until 1986. Still, our commitment to remain as a faith community at our urban location was strong.
Arts and AIDS
In 1986 Thomas V. Stockdale came as pastor and served until 1999. His vision was of continuing and facilitating the idea of Union Avenue as a great city metropolitan church. The Arts Group of Union Avenue was formed in 1988 to promote the visual and performing arts among members of the congregation and our community. Many members became mentors for the elementary school down the block. And we continued as part of the Union Avenue Association — a group of churches, schools, city library, and community organizations serving the Union-Delmar corridor of the city.
For more than 10 years, Food Outreach used our kitchen and other church space to prepare, cook, and distribute food to people living with HIV/AIDS. Every two weeks volunteers (including some from UACC) prepared and distributed thousands of meals to an ever-growing community of people living with this blood-borne disease. To this day, our church has remained a steadfast supporter of the battle against AIDS by hosting the array of meetings of the St. Louis HIV Services Planning Council (a consortium of AIDS services organizations providing life-giving services to the men, women and children in our community who are living with HIV and AIDS).
A Great Church in a Great City
In December 2000 Mike Simpson was called to Union Avenue Christian Church. His stay until March 2003 emphasized the church in the community. Union Avenue focused on the Lazarus Project, rhythm & roots worship, the parish nurse ministry, and Congregations Allied for Community Improvement (CACI), and also renewed its support for Joint Community Ministries. During this time Union Avenue was among the fastest-growing churches in the region as it began its centennial celebration.
A Twenty-First Century Church Emerges
On September 1, 2004, Suzanne Webb became Union Avenue’s tenth senior minister. Her first Sunday in the Union Avenue pulpit was September 12, 2004, as the congregation celebrated its annual “homecoming” and the one-hundredth anniversary of worshiping at 733 Union Boulevard. Under her leadership, the congregation renovated its sanctuary (2007) and its first-floor gathering spaces (2015), including the original worship space now referred to as the Fellowship Room. For the first time in decades, the congregation’s average age lowered and there was a significant upsurge in membership of young families with children.
The congregation called Michael Riggs as its eleventh senior minister. He preached his first sermon from the Union Avenue pulpit the first Sunday in Advent, December 3, 2017.
Sunday school – 9:30 a.m.
Morning worship – 10:45 a.m.
Nursery care is provided adjacent to our sanctuary 9:30 – noon
Toddlers and Pre-Schoolers
Faith and Daily Life Class
Our well-lighted parking lot is located directly behind (west) our building, which is located at the corner of Union Boulevard and Enright Avenue.
Our building is wheelchair accessible.
Choir rehearsal is Wednesday evening at 7:30 p.m. … all are welcome to participate.
Michael Riggs, senior minister
Scott Schoonover, music director
UNION AVENUE IS HOME TO
James M. Philputt
George A. Campbell
G. Curtis Jones
Walter F. MacGowan
Thomas V. Stockdale