Missoula Church Marks 100th Anniversary on Fifth Street

Wonderful article featuring Macedonian Ministry Glacier Presbytery Cohort members, Rev. Dan Cravy and Rev. Courtney Arntzen, as they celebrate the 100th anniversary of their church, First Presbyterian Church of Missoula!

September 09, 2015
By Kim Briggeman
Pastors current and past will arrive Sunday morning at the First Presbyterian Church of Missoula in vintage Model A’s.

Everything that follows is intended to evoke the spirit of 1915 and/or the Scottish heritage of Presbyterianism and its Missoula presence on South Fifth Street.

The occasion is a celebration of the laying of the cornerstone of the church building a couple of blocks west of Higgins Avenue on Sept. 5, 1915.

In a time capsule under the stone were placed membership rolls for the Presbyterian and Congregational churches at the time, brief histories of both and “other records of importance or sentimental interest,” the Missoulian reported the next day.

It was a long-awaited moment for the likes of noted architect and church trustee A.J. Gibson, who drew up plans for the sanctuary on his own dime. The Rev. John Maclean had shepherded the congregation at a smaller church downtown, where the Missoula County administration building stands today. He dedicated the new building.

“The church itself has been in Missoula since 1876, but this particular celebration is for the laying of the cornerstone in 1915,” said Audrey Peterson, who serves as clerk for First Presbyterian’s governing body and is chairing the centennial event.

“We just wanted to look back over the last 100 years and celebrate the fact that we’re still here, still alive and still moving forward,” Peterson said.

The old cars, courtesy of the Big Sky Model A Club, will transport the families of Pastor Dan Cravy, associate pastor Courtney Arntzen and two former pastors. Kent Kinney and wife Carolyn (1975-1989) are returning to Missoula from Chicago, and Wayne and Janice Morrow (1984-1993) will come from southern California for the celebration.

They’ll be greeted by a sidewalk performance of the Celtic Dragon Pipe Band, which will also lead the processional at the start of a 90-minute worship service at 9:30 a.m.

“The Presbyterian faith has a strong tradition in history going back to Scotland, specifically,” said Tom Mateer, an elder in the church. “We have an Andrews in the congregation who traces her family back to the (Scottish) Tartans and all that. There’s a really strong connection.”

The Maclean family of Missoula – John, Clara and their sons Norman and Paul – are also of the Scottish tradition, which Norman made frequent reference to in his seminal novella “A River Runs Through It.”

There may even be some fishing talk Sunday. Cravy, who’ll deliver a sermon that includes a reading of Rev. Maclean’s first talk in Missoula in 1909, went fly-fishing Monday on Rock Creek with sons Cazden, 9, and Colter, 7. Dad caught a 20-inch rainbow trout.

It’s a pastime Cravy said he’s learned from a congregation steeped in the Maclean tradition.

Sunday’s worship service will also include performances by the First Presbyterian Church Bell Choir, led by Tomi Kent, with an arrangement of the theme from the movie “A River Runs Through It.” A traditional church potluck luncheon will follow the service at 11 a.m. in the Fellowship Hall, where displays and photographs from the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula and from church archives will be exhibited.


The placing of the cornerstone on Sunday of Labor Day weekend 1915 was photographed by Maud Gibson, A.J.’s wife. It marked the official joining together of the Presbyterian and Congregational churches. Maclean gave a brief dedication talk, but the keynote address was reserved for the Rev. E.D. Gallagher of the Congregational church.

“Though the federation left him without a charge, Rev. Mr. Gallagher was one of the most earnest workers for it,” the Daily Missoulian reported. “He has pointed repeatedly to the advantages of union and the futility of petty differences among people working for the same end.”

In 1922, the Congregational Church went its own way again, subsequently building its own house of worship at 401 University Ave. Peter Shober, long-time pastor of the University Congregational Church, will be part of Sunday’s celebration.

First Presbytrian has continued to grow. A Christian Education learning center was dedicated in 1959, and in 2002 a new Fellowship Hall, kitchen and offices were built to meet the needs of the burgeoning congregation.

A major setback occurred in 1972. In the weeks before Christmas, fire broke out in the interior of the church.

“It was creepy,” Peterson said after reading and hearing accounts of the fire. “The fire department showed up at about 2 a.m. and it was way below zero. The heat from the fire was moving air up through the organ pipes, and it sounded like someone was in there playing the organ.”

The building was damaged but not a total loss, and the congregation committed itself to restoring it to as close to its original state as possible, according to the church website.

The mortgage for the Fellowship Hall was burned last year, and a church member has arranged the purchase for First Presbyterian of all the buildings on the block. Peterson said most of the dollars in the church’s Helping Hands fund were going to pay for motel stays for families in distress.

“We thought, gee, we have a place here, so maybe we could use that funding to provide something here on the premises,” she said.

Working with other churches through the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative and a YWCA program, First Presbyterian recently moved a family into one of its houses. It’s also one of the 12 host congregations for Family Promise of Missoula, which provides temporary lodging, food and support for eligible families.

But this week the focus is on the church’s multifaceted history. Mateer said First Presbyterian has partnered with nearby Big Dipper Ice Cream to offer a special flavor this weekend. It’s chocolate cookie dough ice cream with a ribbon of caramel in it.

They held a contest to name the dish. The winner?

A Ribbon Runs Through It.

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