The history of the First United Presbyterian Church of Moline, Illinois, begins with a vision given by God to spiritual and practical men ready and willing to follow His will. Several United Presbyterians, members of the First Rock Island congregation but residents of Moline, had long felt the call to establish a congregation in their own city.
On January 10, 1895, the group met to consider renting a building on 25th Street. After much prayer it was decided to organize a Sabbath School in the building. Samuel H. Montgomery was elected on February 21 as the first Superintendent along with other officers. The school opened on March 3 with seventeen persons present. Preaching services began a week later with the Reverend H. C. Marshall, pastor of the First Rock Island church, presiding. The service and school were later moved to the Art Gallery, a building on 16th Street. The congregation grew there until the first church was built.
On May 14, the First United Presbyterian Church was formally organized with thirty members on the rolls. On June 8 the first elders, Samuel H. Montgomery and James I. McConnell, were installed. The first group of dedicated trustees included Edward Maurer, Martha Thorton, John W. King and A. E. Montgomery. The Reverend D. L. McNary was appointed by the Board of Home Missions to have charge of the Moline congregation.
The Reverend William James Golden assumed full charge on August 1 under appointment by the Board of Home Missions. During his pastorate, which ended in 1902, the lot on the corner of 16th Street and 8th Avenue was purchased for the sum of $3500 with the aid of the Board of Church Extension. A frame church building was built there for the cost of $5000.
The new church building was dedicated on May 11. In September, the Reverend William Murray Story was named as pastor. The faithfulness of his ministry was reflected in three outstanding events: the parsonage was built on the lot next to the church; the congregation became self-supporting and was free of indebtedness; two young men of the church, brothers Carl E. and Oscar T. Person, were called into the ministry.
From 1912 to April 1919, three pastors served the growing congregation: The Reverend William Smart Wallace, the Reverend James Hunter Miller, and the Reverend Robert C. Clark. Membership during these years grew to 117 with several active organizations. Many of the congregation’s young men answered the call to armed service for their country during World War I.
On October 13, the Reverend A. Campbell Bailey began a long and fruitful pastorate of the young Moline congregation. Under his direct leadership, which ended in 1940 with his retirement, the membership grew to 253. Despite the hard years of the Depression, there was a marked increase in giving and the various ministries of the church were strengthened. The women of the church established mission groups, named after a missionary then serving in Africa, Carol McMillen: the Carol Circle, Mid-Carols, Junior Carols, the Ladies Aid and a Junior Circle for boys and girls which met on Saturday afternoons with Mrs. Effie Maurer leading. Dr. Bailey’s outstanding achievement was the erection of the present brick veneer edifice with its splendid appointments for the various phases of church life and service. The building began on November 5, 1930, at a cost of $45,000. The cornerstone was laid on January 1, 1931, and the dedication was held on June 21, 1931. Dr. Bailey inspired many into Christian experience and decision, including three young men who entered the ministry.
Succeeding Dr. Bailey was the Reverend Samuel Irvine Acheson, TH.M., who was installed on February 26th. During his pastorate many people received Christ and became members of the church. The building debt was significantly reduced. Pastor Acheson entered the United States Naval Chaplaincy in 1943.
The Reverend Kenneth Norton Peterson was ordained and installed as pastor of First United Presbyterian on August 9. Under his faithful ministry the building debt was retired and the mortgage was burned in 1945. The church building was redecorated inside and out. The organ was enriched by the addition of DOLCE and DULCIANA stops in memory of the forty-three active members who entered the military service during World War II. General offerings doubled and gifts to the mission budget increased. In May, 1948, special services were held marking the 50th Anniversary of the congregation’s organization. At this time, Maas Cathedral Chimes were presented in memory of the late Elder Samuel H. Montgomery. Reverend Peterson left First United Presbyterian on 1949. The recorded membership for that year was 307.
On January 15th the Reverend Zion Robbins became pastor and served for nine years of the growing congregation. Through his ministry many accepted Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior and membership expanded to 441. To further serve the congregation, the first Board of Deacons was elected in 1951. Their duties included: supervision of congregational fellowship, a Servicemen’s program, Cradle Roll department, and spiritual comfort and encouragement for the sick and home-bound. Dr. Robbins oversaw the remodeling of the sanctuary and the parsonage. The church’s youth program was created with the establishment of a Youth Council to supervise and coordinate all young people’s work. The Youth Club was organized to meet once a week for fellowship, dinner and study.
From 1955 to 1956, Miss Marla Clark served as Christian Education Director, organizing such activities a Youth Club, day camp, summer conferences, prayer and planning retreats, and overseeing church school activities. Five acres of ground near Coal Valley were donated by Miss Mattie Bailey in memory of her brother, the Reverend A. Campbell Bailey. On September 19, 1956, the Bailey Retreat was dedicated for youth work, religious services, and recreational activities. Beyond this expansion the church school added new Sunday school rooms and a new manse was purchased at 1007 23rd Avenue.
The Reverend John H. Criswell was installed as pastor on October 29. He served the congregation for twelve years until 1971. During those years 319 people were received into the church family. Also in that time period, four members dedicated their lives to Christ as missionaries to Campus Crusade, to Newark, New Jersey and to Norway. In 1960, to cooperate with the reorganization in the national church, the women’s groups were merged into one Women’s Association with five Circles meeting monthly for study, prayer, and Christian service. The names of the Circles were Dorcas, Lydia, Martha, Naomi and Rebekah.
The congregation was blessed with the addition of a new Christian Education wing. The wing, dedicated in October, 1967, included all new Primary, Nursery, and High School Departments, an infant nursery, and several adult classrooms. The Junior Department was renovated and improvements were made to the Beginners Department and the kitchen. New hymn books were purchased and a new speaker system was installed in the sanctuary with provisions made for hearing assistance. On September 20, 1970, a Schulmerich Carillon was dedicated as a memorial to Michael Warren who gave his life for his country in Vietnam. The youth program continued to grow with the appointment of Donald Neer as Youth Director. A van was purchased through generous donations to transport young people to church and various activities.
From September, 1971, until January, 1973, the congregation was without a pastor but continued to move forward with God’s guidance and direction. The choir loft was enlarged and new choir robes purchased. Dr. Authur McClung, a retired United Presbyterian minister, sustained the congregation with inspiring messages from the pulpit.
The Reverend John J. Costas became pastor on January 21. During his tenure, Vacation Bible School was held at Bailey Retreat with attendance averaging 125. The work of God was taught in an open atmosphere that portrayed His wondrous kingdom created for our enjoyment. A Lay Institute for evangelism from Campus Crusade was taught as an elective during Sunday School, attended by over 100. Gary Flanders was hired as Christian Education and Youth Minister to strengthen the youth ministry. In 1977 central air conditioning was added to the sanctuary and overflow worship areas. A new pipe organ was installed in the sanctuary and a new furnace was installed in 1978. Reverend Costas left our congregation April 13, 1981.
The Reverend John C. Berghorst became pastor on December 1. With his youthfulness, vibrant personality, and inspiring messages, the congregation grew to 480 members. Gary Flanders left in February, 1982. The Reverend Paul Petersen was hired as Assistant Pastor in May, 1982, primarily charged with youth pastoring and Christian Education direction. The session was organized into nine committees and given authority to conduct affairs within the committee jurisdiction. This enabled the session meeting to be conducted more efficiently and improved connection with the congregation. In 1982 the Munro property south of the church was purchased for $45,000. After paying off the loan in 1984, the congregation began to plan for expansion. Our first summer family camp was held in Wyoming, Iowa, and started a tradition of arranging camps , most recently held at Conference Point, Wisconsin. Several groups of 8-10 engaged in the Navigator 2:7 three year discipleship program. Sunday School attendance rose to over 300 and precipitated efforts to focus on expansion of class room space. Construction of the Christian Education wing began June, 1986, under the expert leadership of Elder Bernard Vogelaar. Shortly thereafter Reverend Berghorst left to pastor in Pennsylvania. On June 15, 1886, the Reverend David J. Steane was called as Associate Pastor.
The Reverend Victor Varkonyi, D.M., became pastor on April 16. During his call the education wing was completed on June 7, 1987, and dedicated on September 20, 1987. The classroom space of the facility made to readily open for a large fellowship hall and has been used for concerts, plays, banquets, mission fairs and committee programs. The Session membership was expanded to 15 members from 12 to handle increasing responsibilities. In 1988, church membership stood at an all time high of 501. The Board of Deacons was expanded to 12 members for its increasing responsibilities. The congregation was significantly involved in the Luis Palau Crusade, for which Reverend Steane was Chairman of the Pastor’s Committee. Reverend Steane left in 1990 to join the Palau staff.
The Reverend Michael G. Umbenhaur was called as Associate Pastor in 1992. A new elevator was in the Christian Education wing entrance for handicapped accessibility and to improve use of the entire facility for special events. Ms. Sheila Kuriscak was hired as Christian Education Director in 1994 to enhance the CE program.
The Women’s Association continues with four active groups (Naomi-Rebekah merged). Each group has a Bible study, holds 3-4 events a year for the women of the church, and provides an out-reach opportunity. Each Circle participates with the World Mission service projects each year, given to them by the U. S. Presbyterian organization. This includes providing baby blankets, clothing, shoes and many different necessary items for the needy. FUPC women have made it their purpose to support missions.
Our many thanks also go to the endeavors of the Reverend Robert C. Urquhart who served as an Interim Pastor from September 7, 1986, to March 15, 1987. His loving personality and endearing character will be long remembered by every soul he touched.
The mortgage for the Christian Education wing was burned in January, 1998.