A Brief History of the

Congregational UCC Church in Shenandoah Iowa


By James Patrick Morgans

In 1877, an intrepid band of Shenandoahans decided that the young town needed a Congregational Church. A. S. Lake, a former Boston headmaster, is recognized as the founder of the church. Mr. Lake, his wife and 20 others became charter members of the Shenandoah Congregational Church. In keeping with the Congregational Church's policy of inclusion, regardless of gender or race, it should be noted that of the 22 original charter members 6 were men and 16 were women.

 This optimistic group built the largest building in town as far as seating capacity. The Shenandoah High School would hold their graduation ceremonies in the church for many years because it could hold the most people. The original lots were sold to the church at almost a donation price, and the first church building was built at a cost of $3,800. The Ladies Society of the church held quilting bees, oyster suppers, and ice cream socials to raise money for pulpit supplies. In 1880 a two-story parsonage was built at a cost of $1,500.

 This audacious assembly of Shenandoah Congregationalists built this church and had it paid for even before they had hired a full-time minister! In February of 1878, a full-time minister, William Plested of New York, was called. The second minister called was J. O. Stevenson in January of 1880. Stevenson was a graduate of the famed Yale Divinity School. A. S. Lake also established a top notch Sunday School program in which not only ecclesiastical matters were stressed but also the importance of higher education. One year, Lake would proclaim that all of the boys and girls in the senior Sunday School class would go on to college, which was quite an accomplishment in the late 19th century.

 It is interesting to note that many of those who helped Shenandoah become the Seed and Nursery center of the world had ties or were associated with Shenandoah Congregational Church. These gentlemen would be David Lake, A. S. Lakes brother and founder of the first nursery in Shenandoah, Henry Field, Ed Welch, and the May and Rankin families.

 The church grew by leaps and bounds, and by 1902 the congregation celebrated its 25th anniversary with a membership of 237 and 101 in Sunday School! The present day sanctuary was started in 1911 and finished in 1915 at a cost of $50,000.

 In 1925 and 1926 the church received the Silver Cup designating it as the top Congregational Sunday School program in Iowa. In 1927, the church celebrated its golden anniversary, and its membership continued to grow with 204 members and whopping 245 enrolled in Sunday School.

 This church helped to make history in 1939 when one of its members, Mrs. Elbert Read, was named Moderator of the Congregational Church for the State of Iowa. It is believed she was the first woman to hold this position.

 Music has always been important to this church and from 1958 to the present, M. W. has provided superior play on the organ. Combined with C. E.'s work as choir director, this congregation has been provided with some of the best church music in the area.

 In 1971 E. C. was called as minister to this church. The church had been on a down cycle before Reverend C. came, but with a lot of hard work by Pastor C. and members of the church, membership was increased. In 1977 when the church celebrated its 100th year anniversary, it had almost 300 members. Reverend C. served this church for 24 years, which is certainly the longest stint of any minister in the church's history.

 As the Shenandoah Congregational UCC Church enters into the 21st century, it is with as much optimism as with our founders. The church is blessed with a revamped Sunday School, a wonderful music department, many missions projects, active men's and women's fellowships and numerous activities.

 Reproduced with permission from the author.

Written in 2000.

Some people are still living and their names will appear as initials only.


Submitted by C. A. Baker, Jan 2011