Westminster's Early Years
As Topeka began to grow to the south and west in the late 1880s, Presbyterians envisioned a new church to serve an area removed from the downtown population center. At the request of the Reverend E. C. Ray, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, and under the auspices of the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions, the Reverend John B. Hill began ministering to the “Washburn neighborhood,” out on the edge of town.
On April 5, 1889, a small group of people adopted a resolution asking the Presbytery of Topeka to organize a church to be known as Westminster Presbyterian Church. Twenty-three days later the official organization took place as 37 members of First Presbyterian became charter members of Westminster. Under the pastoral leadership of John B. Hill, services were held in the temporary quarters at West End Hall at the corner of Clay and Munson.
The Reverend Theodore Harris in the new sanctuary
By December, 1890, the young congregation was ready to dedicate a new building located at the southeast corner of College and Huntoon and built at a cost of $6,000. By the time this dedication took place, the Reverend John B. Hill had departed Topeka and had been succeeded by the Reverend Theodore W. Harris. As the Elmhurst and College Hill additions to Topeka grew between 1890 and 1911, so did Westminster.
By 1911 Westminster needed a building better suited to its needs and an extensive remodeling was undertaken at a cost equal to that of the original structure
Reverend Ralph Ward, who came in 1904 and stayed until 1917, was influential in establishing Westminster’s firm identity as a missional church, though we were always that. Long before we had a church building we had missionary societies up and running. Then John McAfee, a young ex- army chaplain, was called in the Spring of 1919 –leading Westminster through some of its most satisfying and most trying times. In 1921 the congregation decided it would begin work toward a new church to be built on land at the northwest corner of 13th and Boswell.
A story in the July 28, 1924, Topeka Daily Capital described the undertaking, in part: “The new church will sit on a natural terrace on one of the most picturesque sites in the city. The building is intended for a community center, to benefit all citizens of the Westminster community.” The final costs of the new edifice would run over $163,000, an enormous sum in those days. With the Great Depression coming and World War II following, the congregation needed twenty years to pay off this debt and almost lost the building in the process. First Presbyterian Church helped motivate us to believe we could overcome this burden and with their help we finally did so in 1945.
In its 129 year history 13 pastors have served Westminster. Stained glass windows in the chapel honor six of them; Ralph Ward, John McAfee, Leslie Whitcomb, Larry Schwarz, Bill Findley and Bill Gannaway.