Rev. Dr. Otis E Young
Senior Minister of First-Plymouth 1972 - 2006

Otis Young served as Senior Minister of First-Plymouth from 1972 until his retirement in 2006. Under his leadership, First-Plymouth became a vibrant place, full of outreach, growth and activity. Here are just a few of his accomplishments:

  • Reach out and Live – At a time when few mainline churches took to the airways, Otis launched a TV ministry in 1987. This ministry, which Otis referred to as “our congregation’s gift to the Lincoln community”, has touched the lives of thousands upon thousands with weekly viewership as high as 15,000. 
  • Building on the Vision - This new addition, dedicated in 1994, included a 3 level wing, new west entrance, elevator and specially designed restrooms to make the church accessible to all.
  • Lied Organ - Otis secured a $700,000 grant from the Lied Foundation to install a pipe organ hailed as one of the largest and most versatile in the country. 
  • Famed carillon was restored in 1990. 
  • Membership tripled in size and First-Plymouth grew to be one of the largest churches in Lincoln, as well as a top ten United Church of Christ congregation in the United States. Average weekly attendance soared up to nearly 1,000. Otis was driven by the notion that churches should try all kinds of experimental ministries in all kinds of places where the church had not necessarily been before. 
  • Otis served on numerous community boards and received the Kiwanis Club annual award for Distinguished Service. He was a major guiding force in Lincoln for more than 3 decades.

Otis was born in a small farm community in Union, Missouri. He received his AB degree from Westminster College in Fulton, MO and attended Yale Divinity School on scholarship as a graduate student. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Westminster College in 1969. In 2007, he was awarded the school’s prestigious Alumni Award for Distinction in Congregational Ministry.

Before coming to First-Plymouth, Otis was General Secretary for the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries in New York City. Prior to that, he served as Senior Pastor of the Evangelical United Church of Christ in Webster Groves (suburb of St. Louis) from 1962-1969 and Trinity United Church of Christ in Markham, Il, (suburb of Chicago) from 1957-1962.

Otis was married to Rowena (Kreger) Young for 55 years. They met while attending Westminster College in Fulton, MO. They had 2 daughters (Krista Rickman and Caris Kenny) and 1 son (Joel Young) and 9 grandchildren. Otis passed away on December 10, 2009. Rowena passed away July 2, 2014.

Wisdom from Otis

by The Rev Dr. Jim Keck, Senior Minister

Otis Young was one of the great pastors in our denominations history. In fact, he was named one of the top 50 of all time in the UCC 50th anniversary book. And so, the opportunity to work with him was one of the best tutorials I could have hoped for as a minister. Let me share five nuggets of his wisdom because they continue to be part of the DNA of First-Plymouth.

Positivity beats out negativity every time
Otis Young was the most constitutionally happy person I ever met. He loved life. He thought churches were sometimes just not happy enough, and instead, became enamored with arguments and scandals. Otis simply had no interest in negativity and his basic optimism permeated our church. He told me countless times that people should leave church feeling better and happier than when they came. He believed joy was our birthright.

It does not have to be perfect to be good
Perhaps a key to Otis' happiness was this old adage, and he taught the church to simply not be too uptight. To strive for the best, but not to overwork things to death. He created a permission giving environment where there were not a lot of procedures or policies, where people were free to experiment and express themselves. Even if the results were not perfect…they were usually good.

Less is more
Otis traveled the country attending worship services and came away with an overriding impression: protestant worship was wildly discursive. He felt it was just way too wordy, words heaped upon words. He thought if you had too many words, no one would know which the important words were, and he believed that fewer words created spaciousness for majesty. So he literally instituted a word count, and if any of the ministers prattled on too long and exceeded it, they would be corrected - kindly but pointedly. He felt worship should feel like it's moving forward and end after no more than about 57 minutes. If a service went too long, he would announce at the benediction that the next service would be shorter, but to receive that rebate, you had to come the very next week.

The pastor of First-Plymouth should not micromanage
Otis was a believer in people, their talents, strengths and insights. He thought you should hire good people, and then, rather than looking over their shoulder and steering their efforts, you should mostly just let them be to develop their own unique ministries. He tried to provide staff with resources, his presence and positivity, and then he would let them soar.

And lastly, his sheer courage is a lasting legacy and continues to create our personality as a church. If he thought something was right, gender equality, LBGTQ rights for instance, then he simply said what he thought was right regardless of how it might endanger his job. He told me countless times, “Take risks and do what you think you have to do, but be very quick to ask for forgiveness if you screw it up. And you will be sure to screw some things up.”

Otis was not just my mentor, he became my friend. Thank you, friend, for all you did for this church and community.