History of Community Christian Church
Community Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has a very rich history as an active, progressive congregation. The church was founded in 1890 as an outgrowth of a boys’ Sunday school class of the 1st Christian Church established in Westport in 1855. The congregation began as the Springfield Avenue Christian Church at 31st and Charlotte St.(also known as Southside Christian) and later moved to Linwood Boulevard and Forest as Linwood Christian in 1908. Led by Dr. Burris Jenkins, the church was known for its “firsts”: being the first church in Kansas City to broadcast its services on radio, the first to establish a pre-school, and the first to establish a psychiatric clinic. During the Great Depression years, first run movies (with popcorn) were shown at the church as entertainment for all and Easter Services were held at Municipal Auditorium with 15,000 in attendance. In the 1930s, the name of the church was changed to “Community Church” to underscore its spirit as “everybody’s church” and by accepting members regardless of the method of their baptism.
In 1939, the Linwood building was completely destroyed by fire. World renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, was contracted to design a “Church of the Future” for the congregation’s new location at 46th and Main, just east of the developing Country Club Plaza shopping district. Wright’s design appeared in Time Magazine complete with beams of light shining upward as a steeple. The church was dedicated January 4, 1942 despite many disagreements with city engineers as to Wright’s design and a difficult financial situation for the church. With its very unique design some referred to as a “circus tent,” the new building was complete with a 1200-seat auditorium, sloping to a platform as in a theatre and featured a heating/cooling system of water pipes embedded in the cement floor. Missing from the original Wright design were the steeple of lights and the parking garages.
The congregation continued to grow and additions were made to the building. Theatre type seats were added to the sanctuary and balconies in 1942. A chapel designed by Herbert E. Duncan, an architect and assistant minister of the church, was dedicated in 1944 as the Bonfils Chapel made possible by the Frederick G. Bonfils publishing family of Denver. In 1946 the name of the church was officially changed to the Community Christian Church and was again associated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). In 1952, work began on the Youth Center located across the street on the corner of 46th Street and Walnut. It became an active location for children, youth, and adult classes and activities as the congregation grew to number near 4,000, the largest Christian Church in Missouri and the fifth largest church in the denomination.
Other additions over the years include the large sculpture entitled “Community of Faith” which stands at the corner 46th and Main. Stretching nearly 2 stories high, the cluster of interrelated steel crosses accented with colored glass is the work of Wayne Selsor, an artist/minister of Omaha, NE. The sculpture, installed in 1976, was created to symbolize the inclusive nature of the congregation and its ministry to the larger community stretching worldwide.
In 1990 as a culmination of the Centennial Celebration, Community contacted Dale Eldred (a sculptor widely recognized for his sculptures using natural and generated light) regarding the possible fulfillment of Frank Lloyd Wright’s original 1940 vision of “searchlights piercing the perforated masonry roof….sky-beams…..a steeple of light.” A design was presented; tests were made but proved unsatisfactory. Coupled with the untimely death of Dale Eldred, the project was put aside. Later in 1993 as technology had improved, Roberta Lord, Dale’s wife and artistic collaborator, was engaged to complete the design and the “Steeple of Light” became a reality. Dedicated in December, 1994, a system of four powerful bulbs and reflectors situated under the church dome’s four main portals continue to project a near perfect column of light which can be seen for miles each weekend, dusk to midnight. The light is an invitation to all to join with Community Christian in sharing the light of God throughout the city and with the world…..a beacon of light for all.
Always known as a congregation led by senior ministers who were outstanding orators, progressive theologians, and active civic leaders, Community takes great pride in having had only seven senior ministers over the past 125 plus years — each with a distinguished and lengthy tenure.
- Years of Beginning Rev. Thomas P. Haley 1890 – 1907
- Years of Foundation Dr. Burris A. Jenkins 1907 – 1946
- Years of Expansion Dr. Frank Johnson Pippin 1946 – 1966
- Years of Outreach Dr. Harold Glen Brown 1966 – 1978
- Years of Renewal Rev. R. Michael Waco 1979 – 1986
- Years of Optimism Dr. Robert Lee Hill 1987 – 2015
- Years of Commitment Rev. Shanna K. Steitz 2015 – Present
Over the past 125 plus years, members of the Community Christian congregation have shared their time, talents, and treasures in various ways, including active Sunday school classes, a day care, a food pantry, men’s and women’s fellowship groups and circles, Lenten activities, shepherding groups, mission trips, Bible studies, jazz concerts, fellowship dinners, bazaars, radio broadcasts, art exhibits, visiting speakers and authors. . .always inclusive and surrounded by Christian love. In 2012, the following statements were adopted to express the identity of the congregation: Worshiping Joyfully, Celebrating the Arts, and Doing Justice. These statements are true today and you are invited to join with Community as we seek to follow those tenets as a church and in our daily lives. May it be so…..
Compiled by Sue Durrett from information contained in the histories of Community Christian Church published in 1965, 1990 and 2015