History of the PTCA

Manley Olson, a longtime member of the Presbytery, has written a history of how the Presbtery came to be.
By Manley Olson – November 13, 2001
Updated July 2006

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.” Psalm 16:6

In January 1977, The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area (PCTA) held its organizing meeting. The roll of churches included five from the Presbytery of Chippewa, ten from the Presbytery of Sheldon Jackson, and 59 from the Presbytery of the Twin Cities. Tonight as we celebrate the conclusion of 25 years of ministry as the PTCA, it seems appropriate to remember our “goodly heritage” and how those “boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places”.

The opening of the Gospel of Mathew traces the ancestry of Jesus by listing his genealogy beginning with Abraham. It does not give any detailed explanations. It simply shows, in the language of the King James Version, who begat whom. Likewise I have not tried to present a detailed history but have tried to show steps by which the present entity came to be. It is then the “family tree” of the PTCA showing which begat what.

Presbyterianism, in this area, has its beginnings in 1834 with the arrival of Samuel and Gideon Pond as missionaries to the Dakota Indians. At that time neither Pond was Presbyterian nor ordained and because whites were not legally allowed to settle in the area, their work was officially restricted to ministry to the native people. In 1835 a Presbyterian minister, Thomas Williamson, arrived at Fort Snelling. Soon thereafter the Presbyterian Church of St. Peters was organized. (St. Peters was the name then given to the Minnesota River). The 19 members included the commandant of Fort Snelling, Samuel and Gideon Pond, and Henry Sibley, afterward Governor of Minnesota.

Rev. Williamson soon established a second church at Lac qui Parle, on the Western edge of Minnesota. One of the members was Joseph Renville, whose hymn “Many and Great” is #271 in the Presbyterian Hymnal.

Since the region now had two churches, it was, of course, time to form a presbytery. Thus in 1844 The Presbytery of Dakota was organized with two churches and three ministers!

With the signing of treaties opening up the area to settlement, population increased rapidly. Wisconsin became a state in 1848 and the Territory of Minnesota was organized in 1849. In the Presbyterian Church, this was a time of division with the denomination having split into the “Old School” and the “New School” branches. Both were active in organizing churches on the frontier.

In 1850, the Presbytery of Minnesota (New School) was organized with four ministers and six churches, including Oak Grove, Stillwater and LaCrosse, Wisconsin.

By 1857, it had grown to nine ministers and 263 members in 9 churches including House of Hope, Hastings; Red Wing and Superior, Wisconsin. One of the minister members was Edward Neill, founding pastor of House of Hope, first President of Macalester College, later State Superintendent of Education and Chancellor of the University of Minnesota.

Not to be outdone, the Old School organized its own presbytery in 1855, the Presbytery of St. Paul, with one church, Central of St. Paul. By 1856 it had three ministers and three churches including Central and Hudson.

As population and church numbers grew, so did judicatory expansion. In 1857 the Presbytery of Minnesota (NS) was divided and the southern part became the Presbytery of Blue Earth (later Winona, later Sheldon Jackson). In 1858 Minnesota became a state. Also in 1858 the Synod of Minnesota (NS) was created consisting of the Presbyteries of Blue Earth, Dakota and Minnesota. The Presbytery of Minnesota had nine ministers and nine churches (as far north as Little Falls).

Soon after, the Old School followed suit. In 1860 the Synod of St. Paul was established. The existing Presbytery of St. Paul was divided with the new Presbytery of Owatonna covering the southern part of Minnesota. The new synod also included the Presbyteries of Chippewa and Lake Superior. The synod had 18 ministers (including Sheldon Jackson) and 28 churches.

On the national scene this was a time of division, both for the country and the church. Both the branches of the Presbyterian Church split over the slavery issue. The two southern groups (the New School was not widespread in the south) united to form the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) following the close of the Civil War.

It took until 1869 before the Old School and the New School bodies reunited. In Minnesota the two groups had been working together and sometimes meeting in the same places. Thus when reunion came on the national level the local groups quickly acted and in 1870 constituted the Synod of Minnesota. The policy of the General Assembly at the time of reunion was to have synods follow state boundaries. Thus the churches in Pierce, St. Croix and Polk Counties were placed in the Synod of Wisconsin. These churches protested but after negotiations were completed, only the church in St. Croix Falls was placed in the Presbytery of St. Paul. Thus for many years there was one Wisconsin church in the Synod of Minnesota. (There must be something about that area that has problems with boundaries. There is a small area of Minnesota across the St. Croix River that belongs to a Wisconsin school district and has a Wisconsin Zip Code.)

The new Synod had four presbyteries: Winona, Mankato, Dakota and St. Paul. The Presbytery of St. Paul had 30 ministers and 40 churches including Duluth and Willmar. Its western boundary was not fixed; it expanded into the Dakotas at least as far as the Missouri River. However Dakota Presbytery continued to be a non-geographic presbytery serving all churches that were part of the “Dakota Mission”.

By 1879 the Presbytery of St. Paul had churches as far west as Bismark. This led to the formation of the Presbytery of Red River which transferred the Dakotas and Northwest Minnesota from the Presbytery of St. Paul. During the next decade there was considerable redefining of Presbytery boundaries in the Dakotas. In 1884 and 1885 separate synods were created for the Dakotas. In 1888 the Presbytery of Duluth was created by moving the northeastern part of the state from the Presbytery of St. Paul.

The next major reorganization of boundaries was not brought about by issues of distance and growing numbers of churches, but by the issues of church politics. In 1890 the Presbytery of St. Paul was the largest in the Synod with over 50 per cent of the membership. This was of concern to other Presbyteries because some felt St. Paul had undue influence in Synod life. There was also a growing desire on the part of some in Minneapolis for a separate presbytery. Finally there was a feeling expressed that smaller presbyteries could be more effective in local mission.

After considerable debate and study by several committees, the the Synod voted in 1892 to create two new presbyteries, St. Cloud and Minneapolis, and adjust existing boundaries. With only minor adjustments those boundaries remained in place until there was wholesale restructuring of the presbytery and synod boundaries throughout the denomination, reaching a peak in 1972-73.

Stability in the judicatory organization of the area was not matched by conditions within individual churches or the denomination. The period from 1892 to 1972 saw extensive building construction, two world wars, the fundamentalist controversy, the Great Depression, unprecedented church attendance in the Post-WW II period, ordination of women as elders and clergy, establishment of suburban congregations, decline and merger or closing of rural and inner-city churches and denominational mergers. During the 1960’s the General Assembly spent considerable time on the establishment of regional synods and merging of presbyteries. In 1972 General Assembly approved plans that totally changed the face of synods and presbyteries.

The 1972 General Assembly dealt with a variety of overtures (nine in total) dealing with synod organization in the Upper Midwest. The area included what eventually came to be included in the present Synod of Lakes and Prairies. However some of the proposals suggested that the new entity be called the Synod of Mid-America.

While the synod reorganization discussions were proceeding there was a growing realization that this would be an opportune time for presbytery realignment. Thus the 1972 GA also approved the formation of the Presbytery of the Twin Cities, consisting of the former Minneapolis and St. Paul Presbyteries effective January 1, 1973.

The establishment of regional synods, such as the Synod of Lakes and Prairies, removed a major deterrent to having presbytery boundaries cross state lines. Thus new discussions began regarding changing presbytery boundaries along the Wisconsin-Minnesota border. The result was that the Presbytery of Sheldon-Jackson was dissolved with churches being divided between the Presbytery of John Knox and the Presbytery of the Twin Cities. Five Wisconsin congregations also returned to the natural alliance they had wanted to keep years before. The new Presbytery of The Twin Cities Area held its constituting meeting January 11, 1977 at Oak Grove Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, just a few miles from where the Presbyterian enterprise began in this area.

Before the latest merger, the two presbyteries had not had their own staff but were served by the Synod. This was also the plan that was envisioned by the new structure, however it soon became clear that the new Presbyteries wanted their own staff. When the time came to decide on who should be hired, a difference of opinion developed, apparently along Minneapolis/St. Paul lines. After two attempts to elect failed, a new search was made and The Reverend Robert Lucas was hired as the executive.

The number of churches in the PTCA has been remarkably stable until the last few years. Additions have been Trinity of Woodbury, The Korean Presbyterian Church of Minnesota (a second Korean church was briefly a member), Plymouth, Spirit of Life of Apple Valley, and Community of Rochester. During the early years Big Lake and Hartland dropped out. In recent years closures have deleted Vanderburgh, Highland Park, Winsted, Merriam-Lexington and Bethlehem-Stewart from the rolls.

I began this review because of my own interest as an historian. Despite our Presbyterian tendency to keep records of everything I soon found that much of our history, while archived, is not very accessible to most people. Furthermore the degree to which history is meaningful does not usually depend upon the extend or quality of the records but on the degree to which that history is known. While first-hand accounts of the first century of Presbyterian life are understandably gone, more recent events become increasingly harder to document. The mobility of clergy and the relatively short span of involvement of most elders in PTCA activities results in a rapidly diminishing source of information about the past. It is my hope that this study may give some better understanding of the heritage of the PTCA and may kindle an interest in someone to do the detailed history that would tell in a much more definitive way, the work of God in this area. I only began this project in September but in that short time I found there is a great story to be discovered and told.

In this endeavor I was assisted by information from conversations with many people who lived part of this history. Special thanks to Ernie Cutting, Bob Morgan, George Knieriemen, Lee Nelson, John Sinclair, Carl Soderburg and especially Bob Lucas and Lois Juth. I not only received useful information about what happened but also some detailed (and sometimes conflicting) explanations as to how and why things happened.

Some use was made of Presbytery, Synod and General Assembly minutes but most of the earlier records are not available locally. For the early years I relied on the History of the Synod of Minnesota. Published in 1927; it was reprinted in 1993 with a new introduction by Bob Jeambey of the Synod of Lakes and Prairies. Because judicatory (and political) boundaries were very fluid on the frontier, that study covers a wide area, including western Wisconsin, for the 1834-1858 period. Most of the 19th century dates come from the source and I could have had multiple footnotes indicating the exact citation. I am also indebted to Bob Lucas for sharing a paper he wrote on staffing in the PTCA.

As I noted, many of the records are not available locally. The minutes of former presbyteries and synods are now in Philadelphia. If anyone has copies of minutes or other records of any of the former judicatories I would like to hear about them. I would also offer my help to anyone who would like to pursue this project. Please also let me know of any errors of commission or omission.

Before I began this project I thought I knew a fair amount about history of the PTCA. I was continually surprised as the work progressed. We do have a goodly heritage and the study of the boundary lines has been for me a pleasant journey.


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