Tomorrow members of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Davenport will gather for the last time in the sanctuary and share their thoughts on the closing of their church home — and hopes for the future in new congregations.

The Rev. Anne-Marie Hislop, the church’s pastor, will offer words of encouragement even as she wonders what the future holds for her.

“The congregation has been in decline for a long time. When I came there were five Presbyterian churches in Davenport and one in Bettendorf. There’s not enough Presbyterians to keep them all thriving,” Hislop said.

Church members made the soul-searching decision to close St. Andrew in a nearly unanimous vote. The church was originally assembled Oct. 21, 1854 as Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church and became United Presbyterian Church four years later according to Downer’s 1910 history.

“It’s not a matter that we’re being forced by the creditors and we’re not in debt. But we only have a membership of about 40,” says Korean War veteran Elliott McDonald.

He and his wife raised their family in the church. “We’ve got a nice facility here and we hope it will continue to be used for a church,” McDonald said.

He recalls filling the pulpit many times during the gap between Hislop’s arrival and the departure of former pastor, the Rev. Jim Clark.

On one snowy occasion, McDonald was pressed into last minute service as the pinch hitter preacher for pulpit duties. “With three minutes, maybe five, I’d just walked in and they said would you do it. That was interesting,” he mused.

Hislop took over the ministry in 2002, and being part of people’s lives as their pastor was wonderful, she said. The congregation reached out to the community through the Tops to Bottom diaper making project, giving scholarships and showing a strong dedication to collecting food for local food pantries.

Her memories include sitting with families during times when church members are in the hospital, helping put up the greens at the beginning of Advent and appreciating the time the youth acted out a Magi pageant wearing crowns from Burger King.

The Rev. Jim Clark, now of Florence, South Carolina, served as pastor of St. Andrew from 1974-99. He recalls when the current pews (purchased from another church) arrived and his young son inspected the undersides of the seats. Someone in the previous congregation had sure done a lot of gum chewing, the young boy said.

St. Andrew was affected by the economic downturns of the late 1970s and early 80s, he said. The first hospice in the area was organized in the church’s basement and representatives from the old Mercy and St. Luke’s hospitals served on the board. The 90s brought a fresh surge of hope to St. Andrew, Clark said.

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The congregation, later know as McClellan Heights Presbyterian Church, worshiped at 2304 Fulton from 1907 (when the building was dedicated) until 1960.

Jo Hart of Blue Grass, Iowa, was baptized at McClellan Heights and she remembers playing hide and seek there as a youngster.

“I laugh. I always think I had the best hiding place in the choir room where they hung their robes in a little box underneath,” she said. “My parents met at McClellan Heights and got married here.”

Deciding to stay at St. Andrew until the very end wasn’t a simple decision. “I made a commitment to stay ’til the end because you need people to stay until the end. There were things that we needed to do and bring it to a close. I needed to be part of that,” Hart said.

The church’s bell, once used to summon children to school in the Village of East Davenport, is going to Bettendorf Presbyterian Church.

“St. Andrew will be missed, but it’s time for a new stage. Now it’s our time to go out and share St. Andrew in our new congregations,” Hart said.

The city desk can be contacted at (563) 383-2450 or newsroom@qctimes.com.

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