History and Covenant
Congregationalism traces its root back to Europe’s 16th century Reformation, especially as that movement worked itself out in England after Henry VIII broke with Roman Catholicism and became the head of the Church of England. Although no longer holding allegiance to Rome, the Anglican Church maintained the high ritual and hierarchy of its Catholic past. Many of its members sought a simpler form of worship and organization, a “purifying” idea which led to their name: Puritans.
Unable to effect change as quickly as they hoped, some of these reformers decided to leave the established church and worship in ways they believed to be closer to first century Christian patterns. Persecuted and even jailed for their convictions, some of them fled to Holland in search of religious freedom. They became known as “Pilgrims” when one of their leaders referred to them as “Pilgrims and strangers upon the earth.” It was these Pilgrims who in 1620 chartered the Mayflower and sailed to Plymouth, Massachusetts in colonial America.
Within a few years, their non-separating Puritan brethren also decided to seek a new beginning in America, arriving in 1629 to form a congregation at Salem. Joining forces, the two became known as “Congregationalists,” a term which described their strong faith in local autonomy, or self-government, for individual congregations. In colonial America, their “meeting houses” often doubled as places where secular town affairs were decided, and the form of democracy unique to the United States found its original home in these places.
As a way of honoring its history, University Congregational Church chose to build a structure which incorporated features of New England Colonial architecture. As one historian writes, “It was in the meeting house that the Puritans’ love of simple beauty flowered, and topping many a hill, and facing many a green, stood the white church with sky-pointing steeple.”
Greatly influenced in England by Biblical scholars teaching at Cambridge, the Congregationalists brought to America a strong emphasis on education. They founded Harvard to ensure an educated clergy, and in subsequent years, founded more than 40 other colleges and universities, including Yale, Dartmouth, Smith, Wellesley, Mount Holyoke and (among black institutions) Howard and Fisk. Wichita State University was founded by Congregationalists in 1895 as Fairmount College.
University Congregational Church was founded on April 17, 1983, originally meeting at the Wichita Collegiate School. 237 people attended this first service and the congregation sang as one of its hymns, Morning Has Broken, which to this day is sung as our founding hymn.
On June 12, 1983, the congregation decided to move its services and began renting space from the First Christian Church at 445 North market in downtown Wichita. The church was large and beautiful, providing ample space for worship, classes, nursery, and administration.
Groundbreaking for the new building on North 29th Street was held on July 13, 1986 with the first service being held in our permanent home on June 14, 1987.
Dr. Robert Meyers served as our Senior Minister from the formation of the church until he retired in 2000. Rev. Dr. Gary Cox then served as our Senior Minister from 2000 until his untimely death in 2006. Rev. Dr. Gary Blaine served as Senior Minister from 2007 until December of 2011. Rev.Dr. Robin McGonigle has served the church as Senior Minister since October of 2012.
Bob Scott served as Minister of Music from 1988 until his retirement in the fall of 2014. Bob remains a member of our choir and serves as Minister of Music Emeritus.
Our current Director of Music is Dr. Michael Hanawalt.
People join University Congregational Church by assenting to a simple covenant, or agreement–a spiritual statement of purpose which binds them together to work and worship in ways that promote the Kingdom of God on earth. Printed on each Sunday’s program of worship, the Covenant reads:
In the love of truth, and in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ, we join with one another to worship, and so to live, that peace, justice and brotherhood may prevail in the world.
University Congregational Church is a member of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches.