It wasn’t but a few years ago when Ryan Laughlin, senior pastor at Covenant PCA here in St. Louis, notified me of the availability of the old building on the corner of Union & Enright, in St. Louis, where Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer served as pastor in the 1940’s. Schaeffer was the second pastor of the First Bible Presbyterian Church of St. Louis, following John Sanderson. The building has an interesting history as detailed below.
The building was originally constructed in 1907 as the fourth location of the Church of the Messiah, a Unitarian congregation led by William Greenleaf Eliot, noted also as the grandfather of T.S. Eliot. That group moved to 5007 Waterman near Kingshighway in 1917 and it is unclear what the status of the building was between 1917 and 1938, though they did retain ownership of the property. An Orthodox Jewish body, the Agundas Hakhilos Congregation, used the building as their first place of meeting in 1938, but moved out in January of 1939 when they were unable to negotiate a successful agreement for purchase the building from the Church of the Messiah.
Thus in the providence of God, the property became available to the recently organized First Bible Presbyterian Church of St. Louis. Comprised of people who were leaving the Memorial Presbyterian Church, the group had organized on 11 December 1938 at 5849 Cates, in the home of B.E. Fisher, and their first services were held on that day with services led by the Rev. Carl McIntire. In the early months of 1939, Drs. Harold S. Laird and J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. each came to preach to the young congregation. Then in April of 1939, the building at 800 N. Union was purchased from the Church of the Messiah.
Until 1940, student supplies from Faith Theological Seminary served the church. Boyd Lentz was the first of these men, followed by Phil Lytle and Philip Stutsman. Some improvement on the situation was made when the Rev. Dwight C. Chapin came to serve as supply until the church was finally able to call the Rev. John Sanderson as its first pastor in 1941. In September of 1943 Sanderson left to serve as a professor at Faith Theological Seminary and the church called a young minister by the name of Francis A. Schaeffer as its next pastor. Schaeffer first came to preach for the congregation on 3 October 1943. A call was extended by the congregation on 20 October 1943, with provision for a salary of $175 per month and an allowance of $45 per month for rent [though a decision was soon made to purchase the property at 5842 Waterman Ave. as a manse].
Schaeffer “informed the congregation of his desire to build up and increase attendance, especially at the Sunday evening worship service and the Wednesday evening prayer meetings, emphasizing the importance of both meetings and requesting the elders to give prayerful thought to the matter. He also spoke of the importance of child evangelism and his desire to forward that movement. Children For Christ was one of the key ministries established by Rev. Schaeffer during his time in St. Louis. Much of this ministry was built on the Summer Bible School program established by the Rev. Abraham Lance Lathem, a program which Schaeffer utilized in his first pastorate, at Grove City, PA. His first sermon as the new pastor of the church was on 5 December 1943 and was titled “Believing in the Light of His Coming.”
Pictured above, Rev. Schaeffer and the Summer Bible School,
on the steps of the 800 N. Union property in 1944.
Click here to view a (much!) larger version of the photograph.
Not two years later, in September of 1945, the Session Minutes of the First Bible Presbyterian Church record this note:
Our pastor F.A. Schaeffer brought before us a letter he received from Dr. J. Gordon Holdcroft general secretary of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions asking if he would consider or be willing if he felt that the Lord had called him to go to Germany as a missionary to start a work there that would be sound. It was stated that Rev. Carl Straub pastor of the Afton Bible Presbyterian Church might go along as a helper.
There was much discussion about it and it was the general consensus of opinion that the board might have been hasty in the matter and not given it as much thought as it should have, due to the fact that it might have a detrimental effect on the work here in St. Louis.
No concrete action was taken at this time as it was the thought of the session as well as the moderators that the will of the Lord be done and since no one present knew what the Lord would have Mr. Schaeffer do the meeting was brought to a close after a season of prayer asking God for His guidance.
Finally in February of 1947, the Session Minutes record that
“Mr. Schaeffer asked the session for a leave of absence to go to a work located on the continent of Europe for the purpose of starting Bible Presbyterian Churches and getting sound ones to become a part of the American Council and also start children works where possible. After much discussion it was moved and passed to grant Mr. Schaeffer a leave of nine months to go to this work. . .”
Highly reluctant to let him go, when the congregation met to consider the matter, the leave of absence was reduced to three months, to be taken over the summer months. While Schaeffer was gone that summer, the Rev. John Sanderson returned to pastor the congregation in his absence. Then not long after his return, Schaeffer tendered his resignation in December 1947 , the Clerk of Session noting that the Session “voted to receive it with real regret.” After some time of preparation, the Schaeffers said their farewells. His final sermon before the congregation came on the evening of 25 July 1948—”Man’s Greatest Cause for Rejoicing”—and by the fall of 1948 the Schaeffers were getting established in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The First Bible Presbyterian Church of St. Louis left the Central West End district at the end of 1953 and began the new year meeting temporarily at the Maplewood Masonic Hall while construction was underway on their new building on Ballas Avenue. They moved into their new facility in 1954 and in 1961 the church’s name was change to The Covenant Presbyterian Church.
The old building at 800 N. Union was sold in August of 1953 to the Parrish Chapel, an A.M.E. church, for about $64,000. Most recently a congregation of the Church of God in Christ held the property, apparently from 2002 up until the decision to sell just a few years ago.
The realtor had this description of the property when it was listed:
800 N. Union, St. Louis, Mo. 63108 Central West End Price Reduced $100,000 for quick sale! Beautiful building with gorgeous stained glass, handcrafted in Europe, wood beamed ceiling. Handicapped access to sanctuary via left side door ramp. Pew seating for 300+. Features include a Balcony, beautiful chancel/podium area, pastor’s office on main, some finished lower level with fellowship area and warming kitchen. Updates since purchase in 2002 include new roof, all new forced air gas units 2004, and central air fully serviced and functioning.