Memorial Presbyterian Church has been an active presence in downtown Appleton for over 150 years. Although our location and building have changed since these early beginnings, our mission has remained constant – to proclaim the Word of God, teach and nurture the Christian faith, praise God through music, and serve those in need within the Fox Valley community and beyond.
The congregation was officially incorporated as Memorial Presbyterian Church in 1879. The name was chosen to honor David Smith, who bequeathed $6,000 to the congregation to construct a church building. This building, constructed in 1880, stood at the southwest corner of College Avenue and Drew Street, across from The History Museum at the Castle. With its Gothic architecture featuring spires and stained-glass windows, the building cost more than twice the amount of the bequest. But church leaders heeded the advice of the pastor and built a church to accommodate the size of the congregation they hoped to become, rather than the size of congregation they were at that time.
By the 1950s the congregation had outgrown the building. Recommitting itself to downtown Appleton, they chose a site on the southeast corner of College Avenue and Meade Street for its new home. On September 11, 1966, church members began Sunday services at the old church. Midway through the service, they took their hymnals and walked to the new church, where they concluded their worship service. The new church features a magnificent wall of colorful faceted glass facing College Avenue and beautiful clerestory windows in the sanctuary, both designed by church member and Lawrence artist-in-residence, Tom Dietrich. Three windows that were salvaged from the original church are mounted in the Fireside Room of the current building. Renovations in 2001 and 2014, including installation of a hearing loop and an elevator, made the building even more open and accessible to all.
The focus on Christian education was evident early on. In 1910, the congregation founded the Kimberly Mission Sunday School, which eventually became the Kimberly Presbyterian Church. Back in Appleton, the growing number of children in the congregation resulted in the basement floor of the church being finished and curtained partitions hung to create classroom spaces. By 1951, the church school population had outgrown even those classrooms, and a home on Drew Street was purchased to house the older children. Staff positions focused on Christian education were added to support a strong faith-development program. Today, Sunday morning church school classes and midweek studies for children, youth, and adults provide learning opportunities for persons of all ages.
Seeking to support students as they move on from their high school and undergraduate years, the first of three scholarship funds was begun in the late 1970s. Memorial Presbyterian now offers three scholarships: The Huss Family Scholarship, for entering freshmen students; the Presbyterian College Fund, for those enrolled in a Presbyterian college or university; and the Ellmaker Fund, which provides support for those entering the ministry.
Music has been vital component of Memorial’s worship. A pipe organ was installed in 1880, shortly after the original building was completed, and some of those pipes are still in use today. Even in its earliest days, a vocal choir led the congregation in song every Sunday, with a children’s choir and handbell choir added later on. A Casavant organ was installed in the new church in 1985 and rebuilt in 2011. Guest musicians and Lawrence students have added much to the quality and diversity of our music programs over the years. We are also proud to have been one of the first churches to host the community’s summer Lunchtime Organ Recital series, now in its 25th year.
The congregation has always been attuned to the needs of the local community. In 1944, The Rev. Clifford Pierson organized the first meetings to establish a nondenominational hospital. The result of their efforts was the creation of Appleton Memorial Hospital, now known as ThedaCare Regional Medical Center - Appleton. In 1980, the congregation welcomed into our building Project Bridges Day Care (now known as Bridges Child Enrichment Center), that served the migrant and refugee population in the community. In the 1990s, the congregation joined forces with the Housing Partnership of the Fox Cities, gutting and renovating a home on Durkee Street for a low-income family. Today we provide and serve meals for the warming shelter, the homeless shelters and the Salvation Army meal site. We also have a large community garden that supplies thousands of pounds of produce for St. Joseph Food Program every year.
Memorial Presbyterian Church has ministered to the needs of others beyond the Fox Valley, as well. For over thirty years, the women of the church hosted a Cookie Sale to raise money for global mission work. The first Offering of Letters through Bread for the World was held in 1979, and we later became a Covenant Church with this organization. In 1980, the congregation sponsored the first of several Hmong refugee families, an effort that continues to present day, as we are currently sponsoring a displaced family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The congregation invests in Oikocredit, an international project that gives microloans for small entrepreneurial projects in developing counties. Early in the 1990s, the church began sending groups of youths and adults on work trips to help those in need throughout the continental United States and Puerto Rico. We work with members of these communities to determine what is truly helpful, all the while grateful for the opportunity to live out Christ’s commandment to serve others.
Connect. Inspire. Serve. These are the words that Memorial Presbyterian Church members live by today. But the inspiration for this passion to learn, to teach, to love and to serve, began so many years ago and continues to this day and beyond to inspire future generations. In the fall of 2016, as we celebrated the 50th anniversary of our move to the new church on the corner College and Meade, one member thoughtfully stated,
You get the feeling that the community of people doesn’t change, it just moves. The building is still just the building, but that core of beliefs and people, no matter where they are, is what makes the church that community. Although being in a beautiful space is wonderful, just like our newly renovated space is wonderful, everything else is still the same. At the heart of MPC is a really strong community that supports each other, lives their faith, and shares their gifts.