Church History

An early historian of our church recorded, “This church on the Missouri had its spiritual birth on the Euphrates.”


Mrs. C. Wheeler, a missionary in Turkey, was disturbed to realize there was no Congregational church in the Dakota Territory. She wrote to her brother, Judge Brookings, asking him to write to the Congregational Home Missionary Society about this need.


On April 6, 1868, The First Congregational Church was organized in Yankton by the Rev. E. W. Cook from Wisconsin at the home of A. G. Fuller, with ten people present.


Joseph Ward and his bride, Sarah, arrived as missionaries on November 6, 1868. Still completing his theological studies at that time, he was ordained in Yankton on March 22, 1869.


Joseph Ward founded Yankton College – the first institution of higher learning in the Dakota Territory -- in 1881, with money and on land mostly pledged by members of our church. He resigned as our pastor to become President of Yankton College in 1883. Another of our ministers was president just prior to the sad closing of the college in 1984, and our congregation again stepped in to ease the transition for staff and students.


The first permanent church building was started in 1869, after a card was attached to the Christmas tree at the “Sabbath School Festival” on Christmas Eve. The card said, “Lots for a church,” and was signed by prominent church member and landowner J. B. S. Todd.


Our lots were chosen despite the fact “that they were so far out on the prairie.” Yes, it’s still our location, now just about as far from the prairie as you can get in Yankton, SD!


That first church, built of wood, was dedicated on July 17, 1870. Our emphasis on music apparently began early, as it was noted that our new building had a “hand organ.”


A Johnson tracker pipe organ -- the first pipe organ in Yankton – was installed in 1888. It was this organ that was modernized and moved from the center of the chancel to the choir loft in 1957 and then rebuilt in 1980 at a cost of $40,000.


On June 26, 1904, the cornerstone of our present brick building was laid, and, in 1905, the initial structure was completed. Services of Occupation were held March 19, 1905. In 1906 the enhanced organ was installed in the new building. Our Religious Education wing was dedicated on May 22, 1960.


Over the years, we experienced changes beyond just those to our place of worship. In 1931, the Congregational denomination joined with the Christian Church to become the Congregational Christian Church. The Congregational Christian Church then joined the Evangelical and Reformed Church (itself the product of an earlier merger) to become the United Church of Christ in 1957. On January 20, 1963, at the congregation’s Annual Meeting, an amendment to our constitution changed the name of this church to United Church of Christ (Congregational).


The property adjacent to the church was purchased in 1987 with the original intent that the land would be made into parking spaces. Buildings on the property are currently being used for offices and rental apartments until new office space may be provided sometime in the future.


Important accessibility changes to the church began in 1990. The old parish house was sold and moved, making room for an addition that houses an elevator. That addition was completed in 1991, and now allows both elevator and stair access to Pilgrim Hall (our fellowship area), restrooms, and the sanctuary.


In 2003, the sanctuary, kitchen, and Pilgrim Hall all underwent major remodeling. The organ had to be removed during the renovation due to dust. On September 26, 2004, the first service was held in our newly renovated nave, though the organ was not returned until January 9, 2005, when installation of new pipes began. The organ now has 48 ranks of pipes – about 3,000 in all, including some which have been used in our church for decades.


The Church began a Visioning Process in 2008 to study who we were and where we are going. This allowed our members to take a hard look at what our church is doing, what we represent, and where we want to go. Many suggestions came from this group; many are being implemented today. One especially positive result of this review is our new vision statement: Serving God through Mission and Ministry!


With the assistance of our Intentional Interim Pastor during 2012, a Transition Team continued to look at our past, present, and future, to help us find the right path to deciding what type of a minister can help us meet our goals. This task force built upon the Vision Team’s work and insight, and has made more suggestions for how we can best pursue our mission of sharing the word of Christ with all.


In fulfilling part of this vision, a remodel of the church lounge was undertaken from late 2012 into early summer 2013. Our outdated lounge has now been transformed into an inviting, versatile, multipurpose room.


Senior Pastor Rev. Molly Carlson joined us in January of 2014 and continues to assist the church in honoring our past while leading us into a future that fulfills our vision and plan for Serving God through Mission and Ministry!  Please come and join us as we continue to seek God's plans for the United Church of Christ (Congregational) here in Yankton, South Dakota.  We pray that our minds and hearts remain open as God is Still Speaking.

© 2020 United Church of Christ (Congregational)
Connected Sound - Websites for the Barbershop Community