On July 4, 1864, at the peak of the Civil War, a group of 150 men and women from Second Presbyterian Church in St. Louis organized what would become Memorial Presbyterian Church, originally called Walnut Street Church or Sixteenth Street Church based upon its location at the intersection of Walnut and Sixteenth Streets in downtown St. Louis. Planted during the final years of the Civil War in a divided city, Memorial was a diverse church racially and politically. They were adamant about a common bond not based on political affiliations but rather confession of faith. There were more persons of color at Memorial than any other white church in the city at the time.
In 1879, the church moved to the corner of Washington and Compton Avenue. It was a time of great racial tension, but the church reached across racial lines in the city, initiating mission Sunday school classes and embracing diverse membership. They planted Leonard Avenue Presbyterian Church.
It was in 1923, during the pastorship of Reverend Frank Sneed, that the Memorial Fund was established to build the present English, gothic structure on Skinker Boulevard. In 1926 the first worship service was held in what is now the auditorium of the church. Church members voted to change the name of the church to Memorial Presbyterian Church of St. Louis in a desire to have the church continue in reliance on the grace of Christ, faithfully passing down the historic Christian message presented in the Scriptures. This was particularly important because it was a time of division in Presbyterianism in which modernists sought to loosen Christianity from its Biblical foundation, denying the possibility of miracles and supernatural intervention. Modernists shifted the emphasis of Christianity to a moral code to be enforced upon society.
The church was to stand as a memorial to the pastors and people who worshipped in it in times past and those who would worship and serve for years to come. In 1931, the main sanctuary was constructed. In 1960, the Matthews Chapel structure was attached to the building to expand the church’s educational programs. In 1961, George Scotchmer was called as pastor and remained until his retirement in 1981. Those were years of social and political turmoil for the nation. On one famousSunday, militant Marxists attempted to take over the worship service. Skillful leadership was needed to keep the church from being led wayward. Under Scotchmer’s leadership, Memorial’s worship remained as it had begun, centering on the preaching of the Word of God, responsive readings of Scripture, singing of hymns, procession of the choir, antiphonal choirs, and corporate confessions of the creeds, the Lord’s Prayer, Doxology, and Gloria Patri.
While under Scotchmer’s pastorship, Memorial was a leader in its denomination for the cause of world missions. The congregation sent many missionaries out into the field. It was at this time that the church saw a sharp decline in the church’s size. The church had little support from its denomination and like other churches in the city suffered from the exodus of the city’s middle class population to the suburbs. The City of St. Louis lost 70% of its population during these decades.
In 1980, the members of Memorial voted unanimously to separate from the United Presbyterian Church denomination (now PCUSA) as they were convinced that the denomination had drifted from its biblical and historical moorings. The denomination sued Memorial in an effort to take the church property. The case went to the Missouri Supreme Court and ruled in favor of Memorial. The case was then appealed to the United States Supreme Court which declined to overturn the ruling. In 1982 Memorial joined the Presbyterian Church in America.
In 1981, the Reverend Dr. George Stulac became senior pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church and served for 33 years before stepping down in August 2014. Under Stulac’s leadership people from Memorial have led the way to establish new ministries in the metro region, including Sunshine Ministries to homeless men, local chapters of the Gideons, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the 2001 Billy Graham Crusade, and More than Carpentry. During Stulac’s time at Memorial, the church took innovative steps to once again allow women to teach Sunday school and to serve as deaconesses.
In 2008, the congregation renovated the underutilized Matthews Chapel space to be used as a not-for-profit music venue, performance space, and art gallery for the community with the goal of supporting St. Louis as it positions itself as a premier city for the arts and music. Artists, musicians and theatre groups take home 100% of the profit earned from their work. There was much contention in the congregation over whether or not to allow alcohol for consumption at Chapel events, with holy communion, and special events. Based on congregational input, the Session established a policy guiding alcohol use on church property.
Our current plans include intentionally embracing the city’s diverse and postmodern population. We continue to foster authentic community dependent on grace, form healthy marriages and families, and create a welcoming environment for singles. In addition, we support ministries of mercy in the city and continue our global evangelistic and church planting efforts through active involvement in Christ’s work in all nations.
Members: 201 adults / 85 children
Regular attenders: 58 adults / 3 children
Average Sunday attendance: 200-275
*Numbers include members and other regular attenders
Age: 20s = 34%
30s = 30%
40s = 16%
50s = 8%
60s = 10%
70+ = 1%
0-5 = 58%
6-11 = 26%
12-18 = 15%
Comprise 11% of congregation
- 24 Asians
- 10 African-Americans
- 5 Latinos
- 2 Mixed Race
53% of families with at least one member pursuing or holding a master’s degree.
27% of families with at least one member pursuing or holding a terminal degree.
Current Staff of Memorial Presbyterian Church
Rev. Dr. Greg Johnson, Associate Pastor
Rev. Keith Robinson, Pastor of Community
Gene Campbell, Worship Arts Director
Cindi Campbell, Operations Manager
Sean McDowell*, Campus Minister
* Covenant Seminary student
Rev. Doug Mendis, Assistant Pastor
Vincent Hoppe*, Youth Director
Lauren Clegg*, Children’s Ministry, Nursery/Preschool
Liesl McDowell, Children’s Ministry, Elementary
Session & Diaconate Profile
Session: 3 teaching elders and 6 ruling elders
Diaconate: 6 deacons and 2 deaconesses
OUR MISSION STATEMENT:
“To glorify God by being an urban, evangelical church.”
“For worship to be motivated by who God is as covenant Lord and Redeemer, for the church to be our primary community, and for the city to be renewed through the church’s life and witness.”
OUR CORE MINISTRIES:
Children’s Programs and Family Ministry
• Nursery (birth to 2 years of age during Sunday school and the worship service)
• 2’s and 3’s Class (meets during Sunday school and the worship service)
• Sunday school for all ages
• Children’s Church (ages 4 to 8, meets during the sermon portion of the worship service)
• Children’s Choir (meets weekly during Advent and Lent)
• Youth Group (middle and high school students; meets on Sundayevenings)
• Marriage and Parenting seminars
• Baby showers for first-time expecting mothers
Preaching, Worship, Sacraments
• Worship band
• Pipe organ and instrumental music
• Expository preaching
• Weekly communion
• Small groups meet throughout the week in different homes to study scripture, pray, and fellowship
The Chapel Arts Ministry
• Host approximately 35 music events and 10 art openings per year
• Host a weekly women’s morning Bible study with childcare
• Host regular fellowship events and activities for women
• Host annual retreat
• Host annual Christmas brunch
• Meals for members with life-changing events
• Currently inactive, but significant interest for ministry from congregation
• Multi-session offerings on different topics and books of the Bible utilizing the gifts and education of various leaders in the church
College Ministry (InterVarsity, Cru, RUF)
• Campus minister hosts a weekly student Bible study
• Memorial Academics meets once per semester
• International Student Ministry (ISI)
• Hold monthly dinner for international students
• Hold weekly lunch for international students
Local Missions and Outreach
• Providing office space free of charge for Christian, licensed, professional counselors and First Light Ministries
• Provide meals for Grace and Peace Women’s Shelter and food for pantry
• Support Rise Together’s work with immigrants and refugees
• Support More than Carpentry ministry
• Facilitate community conversations about race and faith in the city
• Providing space for Iranian community events
• Provide space to homeschool co-op
• Financially and prayerfully supporting 17 missionaries sent out from Memorial
Our Strengths and Resources
We are committed to loving God, His Word, each other, and growing in grace.
People describe our church as “quirky.” We have embraced and delight in our eccentricity and are happy to be a place where people feel the freedom to be who they are as created in God’s image. We seek to be a community of authenticity without pretense of perfection or legalism. We desire to be a hospital for broken sinners and the spiritually famished.
One of our greatest resources is our historic church building and location. The building is situated right on the border of St. Louis City and County. It is less than a mile from Highway 64/40, the main interstate running through St. Louis. It sits adjacent to Forest Park, one of the largest urban parks in the United States which boasts 12 million visitors per year and hosts five of the region’s major cultural institutions—the St. Louis Art Museum, the Science Center, Missouri History Museum, the St. Louis Zoo and the Muny Outdoor Theatre. We are just blocks south of Washington University, a few miles from St. Louis University, and close to BJC Regional Medical Center, Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, and SLU Medical Center. We are also just one mile from Delmar Avenue, which is considered by many to be the city’s economic divide.
The building, constructed between 1925 and 1931, has a classic yet contemporary design aesthetic that is attractive to urbanites who live, work, and study in the central corridor of St. Louis. The beauty of the multi-colored stained glass windows, the intricate woodworking, and historic Aeolian organ evoke awe and worship of the majesty and holiness of our Lord and King. Thanks to its classic stone and wood architecture, it is also a very popular venue for weddings of both members and non-members alike.
Because the building is expansive, we house office space for ministries such as First Light—a ministry for sexual brokenness; ISI – an international student ministry; the Chapel – a venue for concerts, art openings, and theatre productions; four on-site professional counselors; and a weekly home schooling group in addition to other various ministries.
Many people are attracted to our distinctive style of worship in which we blend current worship songs and musical instruments with traditional hymnody and responsive liturgy. We enjoy celebrating ancient Christian holidays such as Candlemass, Easter Vigil, and Lent, which helps connect us as a congregation to one another as well as with believers throughout history.
We have professionals representing many fields – education, medicine, architecture, history, philosophy, art, law, the humanities, finance, and economics. Because of their education, our members are able to have positions of influence in the world of academics, politics, city planning, aesthetics, health and science. Our members use their gifts to bless the church body and the community. We also mentor many students who leave St. Louis and become leaders in other cities, states, and countries.
Our Struggles and Needs
CHILDREN & YOUTH MINISTRY
It has been difficult to retain families as their children grow older. This is in part due to the transience of our university, seminary, and graduate students. However, it is also due to a lack of investment in programming, staffing, and funding for our elementary, middle, and high school youth. Historically, we have hired a succession of part-time seminary students to run our youth ministries.
The congregation is in strong agreement that we need to improve our ministry to children and youth. Many have requested that we hire a full-time pastor devoted to children and families.
Per our request, Dr. Phil Douglass recently analyzed a survey we conducted with 38 key influencers at Memorial. The results revealed that we are an exceptionally diverse church in our preferred ministry styles and personalities, as compared to 200 other churches Dr. Douglass has surveyed. This is manifested in the great number of ministries and outreaches present at Memorial given our relatively small congregation and staff. Our challenge as a church has been to establish a coherent, unified vision and mission into which we can invest the resources God has provided. Because we feel called to so many ministries, there is extensive need for volunteer participation and funding, which has frequently led to volunteer burnout and conflict among competing ministry priorities.
We need a strong leader who can help us to clarify our vision and to focus on the work for which God has equipped us. We need a pastor who is able to identify and steward the resources we already have in our congregation and building. We need someone who can shepherd members in using their gifts. We understand this may require retiring or replacing ministries that are no longer thriving, which would necessitate tactfulness and humility on the part of the pastor.
Because of the diversity of temperaments at Memorial, we have difficulty communicating effectively, which leaves some people feeling disconnected, left out, offended, and hurt. We need a leader who is able to act decisively but with gentleness, kindness, and sensitivity.
This has contributed to our history of conflict and splits over doctrine, ministry styles, politics, and intergenerational differences. Though we bear the scars of conflict, God has given our church body a deep longing for unity, connection and healing. Those who have remained through conflict desire to see a time of renewal and flourishing. We need a shepherd who is able to guide us through reconciliation with courage and love.
Many people at Memorial have expressed a yearning for a mature believer to invest in mentoring, discipling, or shepherding them in the faith. Even members in leadership positions have communicated a deficiency of support, care, godly counsel, and nurture leading to stagnation in their spiritual growth. For years we have struggled to find members to serve as elders, deacons, and deaconesses. We need a leader who is able to foster a culture of discipleship, creating spiritually nourished believers joyfully giving and serving the church, their families, and the world.
We have a high turnover rate due to the large number of graduate, undergraduate, international, and seminary students who attend Memorial. Students tend to invest in the life of the church for 2-4 years and then leave to take jobs or continue their studies elsewhere. We need a leader who can help us develop a clear vision of how we can best embrace the constant entrance and exit of attenders and members.