First Plymouth Congregational Church
The history of First Plymouth Congregational Church, U.C.C., goes back nearly to the beginning of Denver. Efforts were begun as early as 1860 to establish a Congregational church in Denver. Due to the high cost of maintaining missionaries in the “wild-west” the requests were turned down. Finally in 1863, church officials sent Rev. William Crawford to Denver with an eye towards establishing a Congregational church in Denver. Crawford’s first visit to Denver left him unimpressed and he moved on to the gold mining town of Central City where he established the first Congregational church in the Colorado territory. Crawford returned to Denver in the fall of 1864 and founded the First Congregational Church of Denver on October 9, 1864 with 12 charter members. Rev. Norman McLeod was the first pastor.
As with the other newly formed churches in the pioneer city, the congregation had no home and met in various places until they constructed their first church in 1869 at the corner of 15th and Curtis Street, in what was then a pleasant residential area. With the growth of the congregation and the encroaching business district, it soon became time to think about moving.
In 1881, the congregation built a fine new structure, seating 900, in the 1600 block of Glenarm Place, (currently the site of the Paramount Theatre.) The congregation had several pastors during it’s time on Glenarm. Among them was the Rev. Myron Reed, a noted social action minister, who filled the church every Sunday and whose sermons were widely published the next week. By 1907, the business district was again encroaching on the church and the congregation decided to move up on “the hill” to a new building on the corner of E. 10th Avenue and Clarkson Street. On January 13, 1907, after the final service at the Glenarm church, the building was engulfed in flames and heavily damaged. The congregation had already made arrangements to meet at the Temple Emanuel on 16th & Pearl Street until the new building was completed. They met for the first time in the new building on November 7, 1907. Rev. Monroe Markley was the pastor at the time.
In 1884, another group of Congregationalists was getting together in north Capitol Hill and formed the Park Avenue Congregational Church. They built a small church at 17th Avenue and Ogden Street. In 1891, the struggling congregation found themselves without a pastor. Rev. Frank T. Bayley, was vacationing in Colorado with his family at the time and preached a few times at the little church. The congregation took a liking to Rev. Bayley and offered him the position. In honor of his former pastorate, the congregation voted to rename the church Plymouth Congregational Church. Dr. Bayley would pastor the church for 26 years until his death in 1917. During his pastorate, the congregation began to grow and built a large stone church at E. 14th Avenue and Lafayette St.
By 1929, both First and Plymouth churches were beginning to struggle as members moved farther away and other congregations began drawing members away from the center city churches. The “great depression” of 1929 only worsened the situation. The solution was a merger of the two congregations to become First Plymouth Congregational Church, meeting at the Lafayette St. building.
By the mid-1950’s, the congregation was again bursting at the seams and traffic and parking in the area was becoming an issue. There was no room to expand and staying on Capitol Hill did not seem to be an option. In 1955, the church purchased property at the intersection of Hampden Avenue and South Colorado Boulevard at, what was then, the edge of the city. A new modern church was constructed on the site and the congregation worshiped there for the first time on November 30, 1958.
In 1961, the congregation voted to affiliate with the recently formed United Church of Christ (U.C.C.), which had been created by a merger of the Evangelical and Reformed churches with the Congregational Christian Church. Rev. Dr. Stuart Haskins became the pastor in 1967, a pastorate that would continue for 26 years. Dr. Haskins is now the Pastor Emeritus. In 2005, the call was issued to the Rev. George C. Anastos.
In 2014 First Plymouth Congregational Church celebrated the 150th Anniversary of its founding.
Upon the retirement of Rev. George Anastos in 2019, the call was issued to Rev. Jenny Shultz-Thomas, the current Senior Pastor.
The United Church of Christ (UCC)
The United Church of Christ (UCC) was formed in 1957, when the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church joined together. Each organization was itself a union of two earlier traditions, the Congregational and Christian churches uniting in 1931 and the Evangelical and Reformed churches in 1934. The UCC stands as a unique synthesis of two great traditions of the Protestant Reformation.
The roots of the Congregational Church were in the English Reformation and colonial New England, formally chartered by the Pilgrims of the Plymouth Plantation and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1648. The Christian Church was born on the American frontier in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s in reaction to the theological and organizational rigidity of the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches of the time. The Congregational and Christian denominations shared a primary concern for freedom of religious expression and local autonomy.
The Evangelical Synod of North America was a German-American church founded in 1841 by association of German Evangelical pastors in Missouri, and the Reformed Church in the United States emerged in Pennsylvania and its neighboring colonies around 1725. Both denominations were of German and Swiss heritage, conscientiously carrying the Reformed and Lutheran traditions from the Protestant Reformation.
All four denominations shared a deep commitment to the freedom of religious expression and combined strong European ties, early American colonial roots, and the vitality of the American frontier church. They were concerned more with what unites Christians than with what divides them and, in their mutual covenant as the United Church of Christ, they have embraced diversity and freedom. From its beginnings in 1957, the UCC has affirmed that Christians do not always have to agree to live together in communion. Our motto is “that they may all be one,” and it is Jesus’s prayer for the unity of the church. We are proud to be one of the most diverse Christian churches in the United States, welcoming people from many faith traditions who have not been welcome elsewhere. We celebrate and continue a broad variety of traditions in our common life.
In 2007, the UCC celebrated its 50th anniversary as a denomination. A few of the church’s proud moments in that half-century include:
- ordaining the first openly gay minister in a mainline Protestant denomination in 1972
- electing the first African-American leader of a racially integrated mainline church in 1976
- a full communion partnership with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in 1989
- a resolution supporting same-gender marriage equality at the 2005 General Synod
(Based on the online text, Short Course in the History of the United Church of Christ, at ucc.org.)