Westminster Presbyterian Church

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Located at 1100 West Jeffras Avenue, Westminster covers a total of 2.75 acres (13). Its interior and exterior design and expansions represent the close-knit relationships and warmth of the congregation as well as the growth of the congregation over time. The founding of the church and the dedication service held thereafter are notable events in Marion’s history. Pastors of this still young church have been few, yet each of them made an impact on the congregation. Another important aspect to the building, other than the church, is the Westminster Preschool which is still being run today and has a history of it’s own. Westminster Presbyterian Church of Marion, Indiana is an illustration of the typical modern small church as well as a representation of Marion’s history.

Westminster is set back on the corner of Westminster Drive and Jeffras Avenue with a spacious lawn and surrounding trees, which provide a natural setting (13). The land, located in the Euclid Heights addition, was purchased from Mr. A.W. Crossman (4). The recreational area in the rear and generous parking lots occupy a substantial portion of the church grounds (13). The red brick building is an example of modified Colonial and Georgian architecture (13). Colonial style buildings can be characterized as being simple or block-like, having a symmetrical façade, rectangular windows, and displaying a front entry with a decorative crown (14). The Georgian style can be characterized by the use of red brick, with a continuous layer and cornice of white stone and trimmings of white painted woodwork (6). The architect, Glenn A. Bickerstaff, was obviously inspired by these two styles of architecture (11). The white spire with the bronze Celtic cross at the front of the building serves as the decorative crown of the church and is shined upon by a floodlight every night as a symbol of Christ being the light of the world (13).

The interior layout and decoration of the church in its early years was simple (13). The first floor consisted of the nave, measuring 62’ x 37’; the choir loft and pulpit area, measuring 17’ x 25’; the youth director’s office, measuring 15’ x 9’; an overflow room, measuring 16’ x 14’; the pastor’s office, measuring 15’ x 15’; a study, measuring 13’ x 17’; and a restroom and staircase leading to the lower floor (13). The lower floor consisted of the fellowship hall, measuring 62’ x 37’; the kitchen, measuring 16’ x 21’; the boiler room, measuring 16’ x 16’; the women’s parlor, measuring 29’ x 17’; and two restrooms (13). In the sanctuary, the ceiling and supporting timbers were white (13). The pews and furniture were lime oak with walnut trim; the carpet was mulberry red (13). The communion table served as the focal center of the sanctuary with the lectern and pulpit on either side (13). A low reredos, which is an ornamental screen of wood built up to the wall behind the altar (10), separated the communion table from the Wulitzer organ (13). The seating capacity of the sanctuary and choir loft was 250; however, overflow rooms, popular among families with small children, allowed for more to attend the service (13).

The original plans for the church were designed to adjust easily to future expansion (13). A building committee was formed in 1956 and began studying plans for such an expansion (5). Existing problems included an overcrowded sanctuary and inadequate space for the church school (4). In the junior church classroom, 55 children were in a room built for a maximum of 30 children (4). The problem of inadequate space in the sanctuary was temporarily lessened by the addition of a second service, but soon both services were overflowing (4). In addition, members were finding the fellowship hall and stairways inadequate for social occasions such as weddings, funerals, and banquets (4). In efforts to fix these problems, an extension plan was proposed that would double the church school area, increase the seating in the sanctuary by 50%, increase the capacity of the Fellowship hall by 20%, and provide a choir room on the ground floor, an office on the main floor, a nursery room, and an enclosed balcony above the vestibule in the sanctuary called the cry room (4). This expansion plan, costing $165,000, was completed in 1960 (2). A second expansion was planned in the late 1980’s (7). This expansion consisted of an addition to the right side of the church next to the main parking lot (7). The main purpose of this expansion was to move the existing entrance, which was at the front of the church beneath the spire, to the side of the church; therefore, creating a larger and more welcoming entry way (7). The addition also supplied the church with ample room for hanging coats and space for an elevator to be installed (7). The addition was completed in 1987 (7).

The formation of Westminster began with a meeting that was held at the Hostess House (2). One hundred thirty-two people attended, a majority of members from First Presbyterian Church, the largest church of Presbyterian denomination in Grant County (2). At First Presbyterian Church, discourse between the congregation arose when the session asked for the removal of their current pastor (7). Rumors of their widowed pastor’s relationship with the church secretary outside of work ignited the discussion of the church’s well- being as a church under his direction (7). This eventually led to his removal from First Presbyterian Church (7). The congregational members that were opposed to his removal as pastor organized the meeting at the Hostess House and became the future charter members of Westminster Presbyterian Church (7). A commission from the Presbytery of Indiana of the United Presbyterian Church granted the formation for the new church (2). After the initial meeting, services were held on the second floor at the Marion Public library for fifteen months (15). During this time, a building committee was formed which consisted of Ted S. Bragg acting as chairman along with B.L. Haram, E.L. Maffett, Robert F. Charles, J.W. MacDougall, and Robert C. Frankboner (2). By the time the congregation had hired a pastor, building plans had been made, the land site had been purchased, and 140 members had raised $42,000 in building funds (13). Ground was broken in December of 1951 followed by the first cornerstone being laid in March of 1952 (13). Construction of the church began on March 1, 1952 by Bowman Construction Company (13). The church was completed on June 6, 1951 and was dedicated to the glory of God on September 7, 1952 (13). By the time of the dedication service, the congregation had grown to 189 members and the first Sunday school session of Westminster was held on the Sunday of dedication with 121 people enrolled (4). The speaker, Dr. James K. Leitch, was the associate secretary of the United Presbyterian Board of American Missions at Pittsburg, Pennsylvania (1). The following Tuesday, which was September 10, 1952, “Community Night” was held at the newest church in town, Westminster Presbyterian (11). Speakers included Mayor Ralph Leech and Rev. Donald E. Berry, pastor of Temple Congregational Church and vice president of the Marion Ministerial Association (1). The service was broadcast over the local radio station WMRI proving to be a notable event in Westminster and Marion’s history (11).

Being a young church, Westminster has a history of only four pastors and one interim pastor. Dr. James Guthrie was the first pastor assuming the pastorate in October of 1951 and being installed the following November (2). He was a graduate of Westminster College and of Pittsburg- Xenia Theological Seminary (11). He retired in 1973 after serving as pastor of the church for 22 years (9). Rev. Leslie Borsay replaced Guthrie and was installed as pastor on September 8, 1974 (9). Born in Budapest, Hungary to missionary parents (9), Borsay served at Westminster for only a few years before being called to find a larger church (8). Dr. Watson Custer served the church as an interim pastor for 2 years after Borsay left while the congregation searched for a new pastor (8). The next pastor to be installed was Rev. Paul St.Lewis Romine (8). Dr. Hank Martin, who served on the board the board of trustees during Romine’s installment, said “Rev. Paul St. Lewis Romine was young and inexperienced at the time he was installed as Westminster’s pastor. After about three years, the congregation and Rev. St. Lewis Romine agreed that a better fit could be found; thus, he left (8).” Once again, Dr. Custer returned for a 2 year period until the congregation found Dr. Andrew Schramm who remains as the current pastor (8). Dr. Schramm is starting his 14th year at Westminster church and continues to be involved in both church and civic activities (7).

Westminster Presbyterian serves not only as a church, but also as a preschool (12). Westminster Preschool was started on September 7,1970 by Mrs. Sadye Bradley (12). Bradley, a wife and mother of four, was a new member of Westminster church when the idea of beginning a preschool was suggested by the Christian education committee (3). Having prior experience in starting a preschool in Ft. Wayne, Bradley was delighted to be named director of the upcoming Westminster Preschool (12). During the first year, Bradley and Natalie Peeler were the entire staff of the preschool (12). Fifty-five children were enrolled filling two classes of four and five year olds and one class of three year olds (3). The following January, fifteen “scholarship kids” were added to the enrollment list (12). “A tithing of 10% from our enrollment funds went towards the enrollment of these children. We wanted to reach out to those kids who weren’t getting church elsewhere,” says Bradley (3). These scholarship funds are still being offered today; and the paid staff has increased to an average of fifteen teachers and assistants (3). The preschool has steadily increased its student s enrollment every year (3). In 1980, Westminster Preschool was the biggest private preschool in the state of Indiana (3). The preschool’s peak enrollment was 225 children in 1985 (12). Bradley, now retired after serving 22 years as director, says, “The Preschool had a big impact on the membership to the church. It almost changed the atmosphere and environment of the church service. Before the preschool was established, I remember the church as being an older congregation- not too many kids in the sanctuary and babies crying. But parents of Westminster Preschool kids were gradually joining the church and changing that (3).” The Westminster Preschool is still operating today after 23 years and will continue, “as long as the need is there,” according to Mrs. Bradley (3). The need is certainly present now considering Westminster Preschool just recently became the first and only accredited private preschool in Grant County (3).

In conclusion, Westminster Presbyterian Church has influenced the city of Marion through its congregation, structure, pastors, and preschool. The congregation’s original purpose of the church, which was to be evangelistic, fueled the motivation that led to Westminster having an effect on the city. This old church will forever illustrate a 1950’s typical small church as well as represent a period of time in Marion’s history.


Lezley Keppler submitted this paper on January 4, 2004 for Mr. Munn's AP U.S. History class at Marion High School.