Earlier this summer, members of Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Labadie cleaned out an old cabinet in the fellowship hall so that the floor could be repainted and, in the process, discovered a bunch of old, forgotten books, which they set in the back pew of church for people to take home.
Adele Quale, who began attending Pilgrim UCC some 30 years ago, picked up an old hymnal and began flipping through it. That’s when she heard Emmett Becker, one of the church’s oldest members, comment, “That’s the first hymnal we ever used.”
Quale felt like she was holding gold.
Today that original hymnal stands alongside other historical items on display in Pilgrim UCC’s fellowship hall, where members will gather in a few weeks to celebrate the congregation’s 100th anniversary Sunday, Sept. 17. See sidebar for details.
There is a 3-foot long strip of velvet that holds Ethel Schultz’ 72 Sunday school perfect attendance pins, an old Sunday school offering bank, old kneelers, communion cups and much more.
Quale keeps adding items to the display, like an old nail keg that would be been just like the ones Pilgrim’s charter members placed boards across to create benches for their earliest Sunday services, which were held outdoors on the lawn of Mr. and Mrs. Florenz Drewel.
Founded in 1917, Church Built in 1926
Those first outdoor services, held in early 1917, were led by Pastor J.N. Schuch, of St. Peter’s Church in Washington. Gasoline torches provided the light and a table served as a pulpit.
Eventually services were moved to the Labadie Hall.
The minister (accompanied sometimes by the choir from St. Peter’s) arrived in Labadie on the 4 p.m. train and returned to Washington on the 9:30 p.m. train.
By October 1917, there were 39 people who had shown a desire to establish a new church in Labadie, so the next month, a constitution was adopted.
When the charter was closed in January 1918, the newly formed Pilgrim Evagelical Church of Labadie had 71 members.
Officers included Louis Hausman, president; F.G. Fredricks, vice president; Florenz Drewel, secretary; H.H. Duebbert, treasurer; and Adolph H. Ehlers.
A church school was soon organized, and confirmation classes for adults and children was part of the initial program.
There was no church building as of yet. Services were still held in Labadie Hall.
A building fund was started in January 1919 using a $100 government bond. A year later, three lots on Academy Hill were purchased for $400; an additional three lots to the north were purchased for another $400.
The money to purchase all six lots was donated by the Dorcas Society (Women’s Fellowship).
Church members held numerous fundraisers to increase the building fund. There were bazaars, chicken dinners and ice cream socials. By May 1926, enough funds had been raised and construction began.
The new church was dedicated Dec. 12, 1926. It is the same church where Pilgrim members gather today for services.
Seeing the Beauty
For the last several years, Quale has been researching as much as she can about Pilgrim’s history. Her interest began one day while she was sitting in church and began to notice the subtle beauty of the fixtures and details, from the sidelight scones to the stenciling on the walls.
“I’m looking at the pulpit and lectern, and different things, and I’m thinking in my head that they were purchased at a church store where you buy the accoutrements that you need, like you do for your home, but then I started talking to the Beckers (Emmett and Darlene),” said Quale, noting for most things in the church, there is a story behind them.
For example, the screen that was added to the back of the piano so the part that faced the congregation looked more attractive, that was built by a Pilgrim member.
E.C. Kemner made the altar. Walter Kelper made the cross and the candleholders that are still used.The lectern and pulpit that are currently used were made in 1968 by Whis Milhollen, who also refinished the altar.
The sidelight sconces on the wall were purchased for $70 by the Philathea Girls Bible Class. The pews used today were added in 1943.
“ ‘It was generally agreed that pews would add immeasurably to the beauty and worshipfulness of our church,’ ” Quale said, reading from the church minutes. “ ‘Each pew cost $28 for a total of $600. They are made of Northern grown gray Elm and are 10 feet long. There are two choir pews which are only 9 feet long.’
“To me that history is what makes our church so rich, that so many people combined their talents to make the church what it is.”
After being inspired by the stories that the Beckers shared, Quale began researching Pilgrim’s history by reading the old church minutes and newletters. As she discovered interesting details, she wrote them down and made notes.
Now she has compiled all of those details into a spiral bound history book that will be for sold at cost to anyone who is interested.
“ I started finding out the history, my appreciation for the church and what came before was so much more enriched that I just want to share that with everyone,” said Quale.
Watch The Missourian for details of when the book will be available for purchase or search for Pilgrim UCC on Facebook.
100 Days of History
Since late July, Quale has been posting a new history detail every day leading up to the 100th anniversary date of Nov. 6.
These include details like this one from 1945, “An outbreak of scarlet fever in Labadie closed the school and Pilgrim’s Sunday school class for two weeks. Pilgrim canceled the Easter Egg Hunt and youth groups were canceled. Easter service was still held at Shaw’s Garden in Gray Summit, however it was suggested not to bring children;” and
“In 1958, the Rev. Karl Beck decided that he would like to see a star placed on top of the church that could be seen for ‘two miles.’ Earnst Schultz built the original star, and Emmett Becker placed it on top of the church. (The star was rebuilt around 2010 by Emmett and Glen Becker.)
In January 1992, portions of a movie, “To Die, to Sleep,” were filmed at Pilgrim Church. Other portions were filmed in St. Albans at Head’s General Store and along Highway T. The church was paid $200 for use of the building.
Hand chimes, which have come to be used in Pilgrim’s services every Sunday from September to May were added in 2002, after Marguerite Drewel recommended them.
In 2010, when the town of Labadie was in need of a Christmas tree, Pilgrim offered one that had grown too big and was hiding its church sign and stone marker, so people got together to cut it down and move it to town, where it was decorated and enjoyed for the season.
Pilgrim members began making apple butter in 1974 under the leadership of Darlene Becker. By the time Becker retired from her role in 2015, she had spearheaded the church in making 12,981 quarts of apple butter.
Pilgrim Is a Teaching Church
Around 2003, the church became what is known as a teaching church, meaning it uses student pastors from Eden Seminary. They are beginning their second year in seminary when they start and they stay on for around two years.
It’s an arrangement that is beneficial to both sides, said Quale.
“They get to jump in with both feet and apply what they are learning . . . in a smaller, more forgiving environment,” she commented.
Current pastor, Christi Tennyson, agreed.
“(Pilgrim) is a fantastic family, a lovely, lovely congregation, very warm and welcoming, and it’s a great teaching church because of its small size and because the members really take pride in this ministry that they do, which is teaching students how to be pastors,” said Tennyson.
“It’s a neat thing to be part of and to be one of their students because everybody in the Mid-Missouri South Conference knows Pilgrim UCC because of its teaching church ministry.”
Tennyson, who actually is in her third year at Pilgrim, was asked by the members to stay on longer in her service to help celebrate the church’s 100th anniversary.
“It’s is really cool to be part of this for the 100th anniversary and to learn from them,” she said.
Pilgrim UCC currently has around 54 members, although Sunday attendance is less, particularly in the summer months. And right now the church has been slow on bringing in new members, said Quale.
The members are generally older, although there are a few families with young children. Sunday school has fewer than six students on any given week, Quale noted.
But Pilgrim UCC doesn’t let its small size stop it from supporting its community and doing its part to make the world a better place.
Members donate food for the Washington School District’s Backpack for Kids program that sends children in need home with backpacks full of nonperishable food items to eat over the weekend. Last year, 129 children were helped with the program.
They also regularly collect dry food and canned goods at the church to help provide meals for people in need.
In 2009, Pilgrim members donated money on Blanket Sunday to help purchase 74 blankets for people in need around the world.
“Every year we do work on stewardship,” said Quale. “And we are constantly doing outreach.”
100th Anniversary Event
Pilgrim UCC will celebrate the congregtation’s 100th anniversary Sunday, Sept. 17, during the 10 a.m. service, which will be followed by a catered lunch in the fellowship hall.
The 10 a.m. service is open to the public, and anyone wanting to attend the luncheon should contact the church office at 636-742-4559 by Sept. 8 to reserve a seat.
The church service will feature special music, including an original song by the chime choir, led by Robyn Dunkin.
Jason Hicks, the Labadie native who grew up attending Pilgrim UCC and who has a bluegrass band, the Blue Canyon Boys, from Colorado, who come to Labadie every summer to perform an outdoor concert, has written an original song about Pilgrim UCC. If he’s not able to make it to the celebration Sept. 17 to perform it live, plans are to play a recording of the song, said Quale.