United Church of Christ (1866-Present)
Est. as German Evangelical Church
The first church building built in the 1867 (left) and the current church built in 1895 (right).
From Goodspeed's 1889 History of Cole, Moniteau, etc Counties, Missouri:
The German Evangelical Church at California was dedicated in December, 1877, by Messrs. Umbeck and Woelfley.
From the Thursday, April 2, 1914 Moniteau County Herald:
The Evangelical Church
Since the year 1865 the Evangelical church has been a factor in the religious life of California and vicinity. Through the generosity of two men, Flessa and Ziebold, the lots comprising part of the church property were donated. Prominent in the old church records are the names of G. Ziebold, H. C. Finke, G. A. Burkhardt, W. H. Mengel, Schlicker and Messerli.
A mass meeting of the German men of the community was held at H. C. Finke’s May 6th, 1866. At this meeting it was decided to organize a congregation and the first officers were chosen. July 25th, 1866 the corner stone of the old brick church was laid by Rev. F. A. Umbeck, the first pastor of the church and on January 7, 1867 the church was dedicated.
In the year 1891 the 25th anniversary of the church as well as of the pastorate was celebrated. The report that was read that day; closed with these words: “Thus have we shared joy and sorrow for 25 years. Thus far God has brought us. He has helped, and will help. Let us reconsecrate ourselves today to a greater service for the Lord. We who were at the corner stone laying have grown older by twenty-five years and have come so much nearer to the great Eternity. May God give grace that we may faithfully fulfill our mission in life.” The old church, becoming too small for the increasing membership, was torn down and the present church was dedicated December 15, 1896. Those who took part in the evening services that day were: Rev. Furgeson, Presbyterian; Campbell, Methodist; and Wilkes of the Christian Church, men who live today in the lives and memory of many of our citizens.
June 8th, 1913 was another day long to be remembered in the life of the church, for it was the fiftieth anniversary of the pastor’s ordination, and at the same time it marked the forty-seventh year of his work at this church.
Within a few years the church hopes to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, but of the faithful workers of years gone by but few remain. Their work is done and with their faithful old pastor they now rest from their labors, and in the records of the church their names are now written in the list of those who have heard the voice of an angel and who have followed him to the eternal home.
Rev. F. A. Umbeck ended his work September 4th and the church called Rev. F. P. Umbeck of Kankakee, Ill., to the pastorate. Since the eighth of March he has taken up the work.
Believing that the church could do greater work by using the English as well as the German language it was decided to conduct all evening services as well as the morning services of the last Sunday of every month in the English language.
The active Young Peoples Society and Ladies Aid Society, members and friends of the church invite all those who have no church home to come and worship with us. In cooperation with all our sister churches our motto shall be “California for Christ.”
From Ford's 1936 History of Moniteau County:
This Church, organized in 1866 is one of the outstanding churches of the county. Fifty-five percent of its membership is from rural territory adjacent to California. The present building was erected in 1895 and enlarged and remodeled in 1930-31. During 78 years of its existence the church has had but three pastors. Rev. F. A. Umbeck, who served 47 years, his son, Rev. F. P. Umbeck, eleven years. The present pastor, Rev. J C Bierbaum, succeeded the latter in 1925.
The average Sunday School attendance is more than 300. The big modern building contains nine separate rooms for class meetings, a kitchen and large assembly room in addition to the main auditorium. All organizations subsidiary to the church are active parts of a powerful and efficiently conducted organization.
From the 1980 History of Moniteau County:
The California United Church of Christ was organized in 1866 and took its name “The German Evangelical Church of California, Missouri.” The founding fathers were Charles Asahl, Martin Buggeln, G. A. Burkhardt, William Born, J. Clennin, J. F. Duwenick, H. C. Finke, John Flessa, Franz Gentsch, Philipp Heess, F. Hauser, J. N. E. Moser, W. H. Mengel, W. F. Meier, H. Meier, L. F. Messerly, Carl Mueller, J. Potthoff, August Rehbaum, Ferdinand Schleifer, August Schlicker, Christian Wieneke and the Rev. Van Tobel.
On May 6, 1866 at the home of Mr. H. C. Finke, a group of German speaking people decided to organize a German Evangelical congregation and to erect a church building. They also elected the following as trustees: President, H. C. Finke; Secretary, W. H. Mengel; Treasurer, Charles Asahl; G. Zielbold, G. A. Burkhardt, August Schliecker and L. F. Messerly were authorized to solicit funds for a church building to be erected on a lot donated by F. Flessa and G. Zielbold. The church was built at a cost of $3,582.00. On the day of dedication (January 7, 1867) the congregation still owed $2,060.00 on the building. This debt was fully paid 19 years later in 1886. Three years after the debt had been paid, the congregation dedicated to call a full time minister. Rev. F. A. Umbeck, who had been dividing his time between the Salem and California Evangelical Churches for the past 23 years, was called to serve the California church full time. The congregation bought and improved the house north of the church where the present parsonage stands. The purchase and improvements created another debt which rested on the congregation for several years.
In September 1894, the congregation decided to build a new church building. A building committee was selected, with the following serving as members: G. A. Burkhardt, J. N. E. Moser, W. H. Mengel, August Schliecker, John Weller, Wm. Finke and Rev. F. A. Umbeck. The contract for building a new church was awarded to Sprouse and Ross. The contract was for a sum of $6,525.00. The new church building was dedicated on December 15, 1895.
In 1896 a clock which cost $400.00 was installed in the church tower. The clock was paid for with contributions from church members, businesses, and residents in the community. On July 22, 1900 the first pipe organ was dedicated. The congregation purchased land for a cemetery which was consecrated on February 12, 1902. A new residence for the pastor was built in 1903 at a cost of $2,013.83. This house served as the parsonage for 75 years. In 1978, the church began offering its pastor a housing allowance. In 1965 the congregation enlarged the cemetery by purchasing for $10,000.00, the H. G. Rentsch property located on the east side of the original cemetery. In 1961, a new church bell was installed in the tower. It was a gift of the family of Mrs. Chris Haldiman. It replaced the original bell which was donated by Mr. H. F. Finke soon after the first church building was built.
On April 26, 1964, a new educational building was dedicated. The cost of the building and equipment was approximately $60,000.00. The church and Christian education buildings were air conditioned in 1976 with funds contributed by Mrs. Frank Gerbes in memory of her husband.
The congregation has changed its name several times due to mergers, which involved the denomination to which it belonged. The Evangelical Church became the Evangelical and Reformed Church in 1934 when it merged with the Reformed Church. It became the United Church of Christ in 1958 when the Evangelical and Reformed Church united with the Congregational Christian Churches.
The following pastors have served the California United Church of Christ: Rev. F. A. Umbeck (1866-1913); Rev. F. P. Umbeck (1914-1924); Rev. J. C. Bierbaum (1925-1944); Rev. P. E. Shoppe (1944-1950); Rev. E. L. Koch (1951-1963) and Rev. M. J. Kirchhoff (1963 to the present).
From the 2000 History of Moniteau County:
As was written in the 1980 Moniteau County History, the United Church of Christ was established in 1866. The details of the first church building, the 1895 church building and its major expansion in 1930-31, the clock in the church tower, the bell, the first pipe organ, the land purchased for a cemetery, the parsonage, the 1964 education building, and other items of historical interest were recorded at that printing. Also, the six pastors, Rev. F. A. Umbeck, Rev. F. P. Umbeck, Rev. J. C. Bierbaum, Rev. P. E. Schoppe, Rev. E. L. Koch, and Rev. Marvin J. Kirchhoff were listed along with their tenure.
In 1982, the Wilson property south of the church was purchased at a cost of $30,000.00. Part of the lot was paved for parking in 1984. The tape ministry was also introduced in that year.
Rev. M. J. Kirchhoff continued to be our pastor until March 1992, when he resigned after faithfully serving the congregation for 29 years. After serving as an interim pastor in several congregations, Rev. Kirchhoff and his wife, Virginia, retired and now [in 2000] reside in Blue Springs, MO.
In June 1993, Rev. Gary Schulte gave his trial sermon and assumed his duties as Pastor in September of that year. He was installed as the 7th Pastor on November 7, 1993 and remains [as of 2000]. He also serves the Salem United Church of Christ at McGirk. He, his wife, Deborah, and sons, Jesse and Matthew, live in the country between California and McGirk.
In 1994-95 a computer system, communion table and accessories, and new front doors were purchased with memorial funds. The main restrooms were made handicap accessible during this period.
In 1996, church parking areas, as well as the driveways at the Evangelical Cemetery were paved with concrete at a cost of $116,100.
In 1998, the members voted to repair and restore the exterior of the church building, plus remodeling the sanctuary, constructing upstairs restrooms, west entrance foyer, upstairs parlor, a sewer upgrade, and a new elevator at a cost of approximately $116,940.
It was decided at a Special Congregational meeting on April 5, 1998, to form a search committee to explore the possibility and the feasibility of calling an associate pastor. On May 17, Pastor J. Peter Becker gave his trial sermon, after which the congregation voted to extend a call, which he accepted and started his duties in July 1998. Pastor Becker resigned effective July 31, 1999, to return to his native Germany to begin a vicarage in the Evangelical Church of Westphalia. His parting gift to the congregation was a special booklet in which he indexed and translated into English some of Rev. F. A. Umbeck's sermons, which were originally preached in German between 1867 and 1908. During that period, our church was called the German Evangelical Church of California. These old sermons were presented as a gift to the church by Rev. Paul F. Umbeck, a grandson of Rev. F. A. Umbeck.
In 1999, the congregation voted to purchase the property of Mrs. Ethel Shores, which is located on Owen Street across from our present parking lot. The former church parsonage, which had been used as a rental house since 1978, is being dismantled in the fall of 1999 to open the area for future use.
Throughout its history the United Church of Christ of California has been blessed with many hardworking, faithful, visionary members and staff.
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