Do the names “Bino,” “Chuck,” “Gurden,” or “Eph” mean anything to you as a member or friend of Christ Presbyterian Church of Springfield, Massachusetts? Though we do not know who had the initial vision of establishing our congregation, we do know these names, the names of those who first labored in the vineyard preparing the way for the organization of Christ Presbyterian Church (or “CPC”) of Springfield.
The Rev. Mr. Walter D. “Bino” Knight was the Field Executive for the Synod of New England. The Rev. Charles M. “Chuck” Bezdek, Jr., pastor of the Foster Memorial Congregational Church in Sixteen Acres and an ordained Presbyterian minister, was instrumental in the establishment of this church. The Rev. Mr. Gurden Scoville was, during the initial years of CPC, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Conn., and often represented the Presbytery of Connecticut Valley in matters regarding our church. Mr. E.S. “Eph” Thyberg was the Springfield realtor who presented a choice of four parcels of land to our denomination.
In a memo dated March 26, 1956, “Bino” Knight mentions the sites available. “Then there is a fourth piece of property on Allen Street” almost seems like an appendage to his description of the other three sites being considered. As God would have it, 1597 Allen Street was the address of the sixteen acres of land purchased by the Board of National Missions for the establishment of a second Presbyterian Church in Springfield. During the land purchasing activities, close contact was maintained with the First Presbyterian Church on Concord Terrace in Springfield and its pastor the Rev. Mr. T. LeBaron Bearse. Letters exchanged during this period held open the possibility of relocating First Church, but this did not occur and that church still exists as the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church.
The purchase of the property in early 1957 opened the door to finding a minister to organize a new church. Correspondence during the summer of ’57 between the Reverends Knight, Bezdek, and Scoville concerns only one person, Rev. Neal Herndon, whose experience included organizing the Wheaton Presbyterian Church in Wheaton, Maryland. This was duly noted as the kind of background needed in Springfield. The question was asked, “Was Neal Herndon interested?”
On June 7, 1957, “Chuck” Bezdek wrote “Bino” Knight, “In my few minutes with Neal following your departure, it seems to me that he was not very interested in the project, but a few minutes drive around the area seemed to change his mind. When we left for the airport, he was very much more enthused.”
On June 11, Rev. Bezdek wrote Neal, “It is my firm conviction that this is a good solid potential for steady growth, but not necessarily for rapid overnight development.” Enthused, but duly cautioned to not expect a rapid development, the Herndons started northward. Arriving in September of 1957, Neal, wife Mary Ann, and children Peter, Nancy, and Fred took up residence in the manse.
Many remembered Neal faithfully canvassing the area door to door for attendees for the new church. The first meetings and services were held in the homes of those interested in his efforts. On November 3, 1957, the new church held its first formal worship service at the Foster Memorial Church in Sixteen Acres. At this service, Cynthia England, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Willard England, became the first child baptized into the new congregation.
The months of efforts by a few–an ever increasing few–had made a dream come true. In November 1957, arrangements were made with the School Department to use the Talmadge Elementary School Sunday mornings for Sunday School and a worship service. The “dim light” of 1956 and ’57 became increasingly brighter...
On May 11, 1958, Christ Presbyterian Church was officially organized and an original Session of seven members was elected to assist the pastor in leading the fledgling congregation.
At the first Sunday worship service of the newly organized church, May 11, 1958, fifty seven charter members were received into CPC and three more were baptized, including Dorothy “Dot” Burnell. On June 15, the Lord’s Supper was served to the new congregation.
Vacation Bible Schools, Sunday School picnics, the meetings of organizations, men’s breakfasts, cooperation with the Council of Churches on their projects, civic programs—these all went into the making of the new church. CPC was much the same as any other small religious organization.
In October of ’58, a Building Committee was appointed. The first annual meeting of the CPC congregation was held January 19, 1959 at the First Congregational Church in East Longmeadow. The members voted to request a loan of $40,000 for the construction of Unit One of a church plant. On February 23 at a special meeting of the congregation, a motion was voted to contract with the Edward J. O’Leary Company of Holyoke for a $42,000 Butler Building.
A Building Committee of five members was authorized to create sub-committees and recruit other members for service to complete the building project. Many worked hard to make the congregation’s vision reality.
By May 10th, a “ground breaking ceremony” was in order, and the summer of 1959 found our members spending a great deal of time watching the building take shape. On October 11, 1959, one year after the establishment of the Building Committee, the cornerstone was laid.
Christ Presbyterian Church was completed in time for the celebration of our 1959 Christmas services. The official dedication service for the new building was held Jan. 24, 1960.
During its early years, Christ Presbyterian Church endured many challenges. The City of Springfield faced tax and property re-evaluation problems which virtually stopped construction of housing units. This and the racial issues of the early 60’s created an exodus from Springfield that stagnated the city. In our church neighborhood, a rapid population growth had been expected in these years, but it was a full decade later that this growth began.
The move of the Westinghouse manufacturing facilities from Springfield cost us the services of two outstanding Elders and their families. Wives Gladys Voelker and Alice Study were the heart of the CPC music program as choir director and pianist.
We also lost a number of other members through “service transfers” out of the Westover Air Base and business transfers. In fact, while denominational statistics indicated an annual church membership turnover of about 20% during this period, CPC was experiencing a 45% turnover. The mobility of our congregation brought us many fine Christians to serve our church, but that same mobility also hurt us.
Neal Herndon served valiantly and patiently as our congregation struggled to survive. During the first 15 years of our history, we used the excess 12 acres of our property (we still own four acres) as a means to help us stay financially solvent. Judge Michael (Mike) Albano, developer of the shopping center east of the church, considered himself “our angel” as he purchased the land from us, piecemeal.
Rapid growth and success was not experienced by our church, and perse-verance under adverse conditions became a valuable trait. We survived, and after 11 years of hard work and valuable service in the name of Christ and for Christ Presbyterian Church, Neal moved on to the Bethlehem Presbyterian Church in Newburgh, New York.
Prior to his decision to leave, Neal Herndon had been pursuing the idea of exchanging pulpits with a foreign minister. While one would have expected this project to die when Neal left, Elder William Watt (himself a native of Scotland) urged the church to fulfill Neal’s “exchange program”, and CPC welcomed Eric McAuley to 1597 Allen Street as our interim minister.
The Rev. Mr. McAuley was in the states to study church architecture at Yale University. The desire to have his family with him and have them enjoy the experience of visiting and living in the U.S.A. caused Eric to seek the pulpit exchange program.
The pulpit Search Committee worked diligently for over a year, with one of their trips taking them to the Presbyterian Church in New Egypt, New Jersey. There the Rev. Mr. Howard Parker, serving in his first pastorate, was seeking new pastures. The Committee presented him to the congregation and the decision was made to offer him our pulpit.
While the Herndons had come to us with a ready-made family, CPC was to have the joy and pleasure of welcoming Howie and Donald Parker into the world and to our manse. Their mother, Tricia, followed in the footsteps of Mary Ann Herndon and took over the junior choir. She was also responsible for training a number of area children in piano. In December of 1976, Howard Parker accepted a call to the Knox Presbyterian Church in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, and the search was on again for a pastor. A new search committee went right to work, but it was eighteen months before a replacement was found.
CPC was as fortunate with our second interim minister as with its first. The Rev. Mr. Carlos Whitlock was no stranger to our congregation as his son Stuart’s family had been longtime members of the church and he’d been a guest preacher in our pulpit. Carlos and Mabel Whitlock had served the First Congregational Church of Indian Orchard prior to the organization of CPC.
During the 18 months with us, as he served our spiritual needs, Rev. Whitlock encouraged us to upgrade our physical plant. The sanctuary was carpeted, the Whitlocks started a fund to purchase a Baptismal font, and the idea of purchasing pews was germinated.
After leaving the parish ministry, the Whitlocks did mission work among the American Indians for a few years and then settled into their retirement in Longmeadow.
The months passed quickly and the choice of our second Pulpit Search Committee was presented to the congregation and accepted. It was inspiring to note the similar dedication to “service in Christ” that was displayed by Carlos Whitlock, who celebrated his 50th year in the ministry while with us, and the Rev. Mr. Carl Mazza, who was fresh from seminary.
The purchase of our pews was completed because both men were interested in the atmosphere of our sanctuary–their concern for the youth of our church and community was always evident. Their love for the congregation brought them very close to our members, and their commitment to Christ in worship and service was a beautiful example for all of us to follow.
Sandie (Alessandra) was born while Carl and Marsha were with us, and she was baptized by Rev. Whitlock. Carl and the church instituted a Sunday morning radio program which was aired over WSPR. Carl’s dream of establishing a Mission available to those in need of a shelter from the problems of this world, while they worked themselves back into the mainstream of everyday living–a dream shared by Marsha–was to wean them away to Elkton, Maryland. In June of 1981, the Mazzas left us to found the Meeting Ground Mission, a fulfillment of that dream.
While a new Pulpit Search Committee went to work, CPC settled down with the third in a line of very successful interim ministers. A changing world is often ignored until the change affects us directly. That a lovely young lady moved into our pulpit to lead our worship services, to preach to us and pray and celebrate the sacraments with us did more to keep us in tune with the changing times than all the media reports on the new women’s movement.
The Rev. Ms. Catherine (Trina) Zelle, wife of a Congregational minister and daughter of a Presbyterian minister, would arrive at our church on Sunday mornings with her young son Adam in tow and make us feel “right at home”–even with a woman minister. The constant travel, in weather both good and bad, from her home in Glastonbury, Connecticut, was probably enough reason for her to rejoice when it was announced our pulpit committee had succeeded in their search.
Mid-winter 1982 brought our fourth minister—the Rev. Mr. Frederick (Rick) Porter. During Rev. Porter’s tenure at CPC, he led the congregation in becoming a purpose driven church.
Several leadership trainings were held and a prison ministry was begun, which led to the addition of the Neal Herndon education wing. Labor Day weekend retreats at Camp Wilmot in NH became a regular event.
The number of families increased and youth programming included Vacation Bible School, LOGOS, Sunday School and nursery programs. Two services (contemporary and traditional) were instituted, necessitated by an increase in attendance.
After 21 years of tireless and dedicated service, Rev. Porter resigned as pastor of CPC, preaching his last sermon on Easter Sunday, 2003.
The Rev. Mr. David Teague, who served the congregation during Rev. Porter’s brief sabbatical, was a missionary supported by CPC. Rev. Teague, served as our fourth interim pastor and continued to lead the church with a focus on being purpose driven and worked with the session and members to develop Mission and Goal statements and search for a new pastor.
Rev. Mr. Tracy Andrew Johnson was selected after a two year search. Rev. Johnson, his wife Jessica (Jessi), and young sons Andrew and Joshua were welcomed to CPC. Rev. Johnson was ordained and installed on October 16, 2005. Rev. Johnson enthusiastically continued the task of reviewing and refining our mission and goals. He stresses the need for a personal relationship with Jesus, while following God’s command to love and serve our neighbor and to focus on God’s purpose. Our membership, though constantly changing, continues to grow under Rev. Johnson’s guidance.
Our order of worship combines the components of both the contemporary and traditional styles, our spiritual formation hour (Sunday School) is again thriving after experiencing a brief decline, and our outreach to the community is growing.
“Friday Night Flicks”, youth programs and mission trips characterize some of CPC’s current activities. Rev. Johnson’s enthusiasm and leadership continue to guide us as we welcome new members and strive to serve as God calls us.
In 2010, the Session engaged the congregation in a season of discernment in regards to our relationship with the PC(USA). After four years of discernment Christ Presbyterian Church was graciously dismissed to the Presbytery of the East of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church on October 19, 2014.
While many things have changed since the days of Neal Herndon, we recognize a solid continuity over the 50-year history of CPC. That continuity lays in our church’s foundation, Jesus Christ, our Lord. In this great blessing, there will always be a unity–unity within our congregation and unity with all of Christendom. In this fact we can always find peace, but peace with a challenge—a challenge to make our church a beacon in a world of sin.
We have a job to do: We must promote the Kingdom of God here on earth. We must worship, pray, and serve in such a manner that future anniversaries of Christ Presbyterian Church will reflect our faith in the One God, who is both our Savior and Sovereign King.