First-Plymouth Congregational Church II
-by Jim McKee
Charles Little graduated from Yale in 1844, then from Andover Seminary, becoming a missionary in India before coming to Nebraska City. Rev. Little was “called” by First Congregational Church in Lincoln October 27, 1867, becoming the church’s first permanent pastor on November 8. Services were held in the Methodist Chapel on the southwest corner of 10th and Q. Lincoln’s population was about 300. Construction of a small “tabernacle” was begun January 1, 1869 at 331 South 13th Street on lots donated by the Capital Commission. The building, of “boards and paper”, sat not on the corner but on the north edge of the property in anticipation of a larger building. The first building was completed in June of 1869, was 25 by 40 feet, cost $2,778.86 and seated 125. That first year Rev. Little’s annual salary was established at $201, only $132 of which was raised locally with the balance funded by the American Home Missionary Society.
First Congregational counted 34 members in 1870 when “self-sacrificing” Rev. Little resigned midyear having “exhausted his own resources and those of his friends.” The pastorship was accepted by Rev. Lebbeus B. Fifeld September 12, 1870. However, he resigned in June of 1872 moving to a church in Kearney. With additions and subtractions, First Congregational again had 34 members.
Rev. S. R. Dimock became the new minister January 2, 1873 and soon afterward First Congregational officially incorporated. Sadly, on the advice of the Council, Dimock resigned in 1875, leaving a debt of $2,000 due to the mortgage when the church building was enlarged and the lingering effects of the depression of 1873. Membership then stood at 54.
After first considering if it would not be prudent to disband the church, Rev. Lewis Gregory accepted the church’s call in 1875, a tenure which would last 23 years.
On April 29, 1883, the congregation voted to build a new building on the northwest corner of 13th and L south of the existing small structure. That September, plans were accepted with the stipulation that it would cost no more than $15,000. Although construction began that November, it was not until January 17, 1886 that the basement and chapel were sufficiently completed so that Sunday services could be held. The sanctuary was completed February 7, 1886 and the building dedicated January 9, 1887. When the finished cost, which proved to be $27,685, one of the fundraising devices utilized was to reinstitute the renting of pews. The following year membership was estimated to be between 300 and 400. During 1887, Gregory built a home directly west of the church at 1230 L Street at the then vast sum of $10,000 and was a charter member with William Jennings Bryan in the Round Table discussion club as later were Otis Young and Jim Keck.
Also in 1887, Gregory was the driving force in the establishment of Second Congregational Church. Lots on the northwest corner of 17th and A Streets were purchased for $180 and that August, the existing cornfield was cleared and a 24 by 40 foot earth-burmed “rough board house” was erected north of the corner. The tabernacle, built by the parishioners, took only two days to complete. It was described as having “eaves only five feet from the ground and a lean-to vestibule. There was no ceiling, a round drum stove supplied the heat, and behind the pulpit was the motto ‘welcome.’ The initial membership of 44 was primed by 36 members of First Congregational. In February of 1888, the church changed their name to Plymouth Congregational Church and when only a bit over a year old, a new large frame building on the corner was under construction.
During the Gregory years, a new church building was completed, First Congregational was out of debt, membership soared to 472 and First Congregational had become the mother church to seven others in Lincoln. “First Church” became a household name in the state and won for Gregory the title of “the nestor of Congregationalism in Nebraska”… helped “make its history, a man of rare wisdom, devotion and loyalty.”
In his 1966 First-Plymouth Church’s centennial address Rev. Ben Wyland said of Gregory “if any man deserves to be remembered, he does.”