Westminster Presbyterian Church

1700 Crescent Drive

Champaign, IL 61820

(217) 352-3387


Rev. Dr. Laura Aull Johnston, Pastor



History of Westminster

The Rev. A. Ray Cartlidge of First Presbyterian, Champaign broached the need for a church in Champaign outskirts. Rev. Malcolm Nygren, 1st Presbyterian-Champaign, called the meeting of interested people to discuss a new church. Scott Weller (member of First Presbyterian-Champaign and builder ) offered his building as a meeting place. The organizing committee consisted of William Froom, also of First Presbyterian, Philip Francis, Christian education chair, and Richard Gifford, steering committee chair.

Original meeting of Community Presbyterian September 13, 1955

On September 18, 1955, Community Presbyterian Church, as it was then called, convened for the first time. The offices of Community Homes Inc. at Mattis Avenue and Meadow Drive bulged with 40 children for Sunday School, and two worship services were needed to take care of the adults. The late Dr. Ralph Cummins, general presbyter of the Synod of Illinois, was the preacher. The course was set in the first bulletin: We welcome you all to this pioneer venture of establishing a new church in southwest Champaign... with a definite community approach to this section of our city... The first communion service was October 2, with Elder Robert Oertel presiding and William Froom assisting. Committees were chosen; members of the various committees included Robert Oertel, stated clerk, Dr. Riley McCulley, Bonnie Palmer, Mrs. Perry Rannebarger, Howard Rhodes, Frank Howard, Warren Manley, Richard Gifford, Philip Francis, and Fred Jones.

In November the church moved to houses at 1911 and 1913 Meadow Drive. The Rev. John Barnum, a post-graduate student at McCormick Theological Seminary, was the visiting pastor for the 45-family congregation. Plans were made for building church facilities on a 3-acre site on Crescent Drive.

January 17, 1956, Bloomington Presbytery gave permission to organize the church and it was formally organized January 29, with the charter members being Bonnie and William Palmer, Bernice and Dick Gifford, and Jean Kramer.

Construction of the manse began March 26, 1956. The Rev. John Ewing, a senior at McCormick Seminary, was named pastor of the church in May. The church held its first building fund drive that month for a general purpose room and Christian education building. Thirty three pledges oversubscribed the churchís share by $386.00.

(right) Ground-breaking 1957. John Ewing, presides.

1956: Sunday Service in the basement of the manse, Rick, Dick, Bernice and Pam Gifford, Phil Francis... who else can you name?

In September 1956, the pastor and his family moved in to the new manse, and on the 21st of that month, the congregation met in the manse basement for worship services and Sunday School.

Ground was broken June 30, 1957 for a Christian education building and fellowship hall. The dedication service for the new building of Community Presbyterian Church was held April 20, 1958. Participants were Rev. Nygren, Rev. Joseph Laughlin, Rev. James Hine, Rev. John Ewing, and Dr. Ralph Cummins. In 1959 the driveway and parking lot were added.

Worshipping in the community room, 1960s, with Rev. Harmon Reeder presiding.

At the congregational meeting on October 4, 1959, the name of the church was changed to Westminster Presbyterian. At that meeting the Rev. Ewing resigned to become organizing pastor at Eugene, Oregon. The Rev. George McCracken Jr. became the pastor of Westminster on May 1, 1960 and resigned December 1st of the same year. The Rev. Harmon Reeder Jr. accepted a call from the Westminster congregation March 7, 1961, and was installed on April 23. The Rev. John Barnum served as supply pastor from late 1960 through March 1961.

Also in 1961, Westminster Church was second highest in the Presbytery for pledging to the Synodís Capital Fun Campaign. Westminsterís reorganized plan for mortgage payment was proposed to the Board of National Missions and it became the adopted procedure throughout the denomination.

In 1962 a new wing was added to the Christian Education building, sidewalks were built and an organ was purchased, replacing the piano. The year 1963 was marked by increased congregational activity. A program of small adult studygroups involved nearly 60% of the congregation. The Session, in "An Open Letter to the Congregation" gave strong guidance on community civil rights problems.

The Community Room and Education wing 1958

Westminster church became self-supporting on January 1, 1965. It no longer depended on the Board of National Missions for financial aid. That same year the church joined the Personal Interest program of the Commission on Ecumenical Mission and Relations and became "yoked" with Jack and Joan Seibert in Sangli, India.

Building on the new sanctuary and worship area began in August of 1967, and was dedicated on March 19, 1968. In 1971 Westminster abolished the Board of Deacons and adopted amended by-laws to provide for a unicameral board.

On November 21, 1971 there was a dramatic burning of the mortgage covering the debt incurred at the time of the original buildings, Christian Education and the manse. In late 1971 to late 1972, the supply minister was the Rev. Robert Slusher. On Feb. 1, 1972, Rev. Harmon Reeder died after a long illness. In October of 1972, the Rev. William (Bill) Salzmann was called as pastor and installed in February.

Many changes were made to the building during the 1960s through the 1990s, including the addition of library and office space, a handicapped accessible restroom, storage in the community room and general upgrades to the kitchen. In 1978 Karmen Trick Martinie donated the cross that hangs today in the church library.

In 1979 the debt of $35,000 was forgiven by the Presbytery of Southeastern Illinois.

Bill Salzmann

Rev. Salzmann resigned in September of 2000 after twenty-eight years of ministry at Westminster. The interim pastor, the Rev. Suzan Ireland, began her work here in October, and by November, a re-development study (Re-Vision Task Force) was begun. The interimís ministry was to help Westminster take stock of its past, and look to the years ahead. One new decision was to lease space in the Education wing to a newly formed Montessori elementary school in May 2001.

Some of the Sunday school classes in the 1970s

The Re-Visioning Report was approved August 2002. The size of the Session was also reduced that year to 8 members and to 7 the following year. In September, a pastoral search committee was formed and the Rev. Laura Aull Johnston was called September 28, 2003. She accepted and was installed December 14, 2003.

In October of 2004 the congregation voted to sell the manse.

Teddy Bortner, Kim Rotzoll, Rev. Suzan Ireland, Nancy Rotzoll and Fred Lux during the Re-Visioning retreat.

Pastor Laura Aull Johnston (right).

Charter members Richard and Bernice Gifford (left).

Westminster Today

Westminster Church remains a mission-oriented community presence. We still have a food pantry and make food deliveries most every month. We run an Own-Your-Own project where we gather household items necessary to set up housekeeping on oneís own, and supply them to "graduates" of two local programs, the Transitional Initiative and Menís Empowerment Services (T.I.M.E.S.), and the Center for Women in Transition.

This is our sixth year of leasing some of the rooms in the education wing to the Montessori Discovery School. We continue to make our building available for the use of others, for example, Girl and Boy Scouts, Neighborhood Watch groups, and events as varied as recitals and polling.

Our newest pastor has been with us for over two years now, and our ministry has also been greatly enhanced by adding a staff position of office manager. Best of all, Westminster is blessed by the continuing presence of some of our earliest members, Max and Bill Brown, Dick and Bernice Gifford, Ebbie Kirtley, Paul Long, Bonnie Palmer, Fern Serbe, and Alice Wright.



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