Isn’t it interesting that the term “The Separation of Church and State” can be traced back to responsive letters written by Roger Williams and Thomas Jefferson or even the prophet Isaiah? Each man was answering the questions of the day with their opinions. The Founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams responding to Mr. John Cotton in 1644. President Thomas Jefferson responding to the Danbury Baptist Association on Jan 1st 1802. Should you take Roger’s words back to his inspiration from Isaiah 5 in the Old Testament? These men were not prone to short statements. I present each man’s original sentence before the metaphor, the Separation of Church and State became common.
Isaiah 5 verse 1-7
The Song of the Vineyard1 I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit.
3 “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more could have been done for my vineyard
than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
why did it yield only bad?
5 Now I will tell you
what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
and it will be trampled.
6 I will make it a wasteland,
neither pruned nor cultivated,
and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
not to rain on it.”
7 The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
Roger Williams: To Mr. Cotton’s Letter Lately Printed, Examined and Answered.
“First, the faithful labor of many witnesses of Jesus Christ, extant to the world, abundantly proving, that the Church of the Jews under the Old Testament in the type, and the Church of Christians under the New Testament in the anti type, were both separate from the world; and that when they have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the Church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broke down the wall itself, removed the candlestick, etc., and made his garden a wilderness, as at this day.” A 96 word sentence, now squeezed into a 6 word metaphor.
President Thomas Jefferson’s Reply: Messrs. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, and Stephen s. Nelson.A Committee of the Danbury Baptist Association, in the State of Connecticut.
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that the act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature would “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” An 83 word sentence, now squeezed into a 6 word metaphor.
Do you think that we may have lost the original concepts of these men along the way? Personally, researching the metaphor made my head hurt. So I looked for something simple to explore. THE HEDGE. It was then that the symbolism hit me square in the eyes. The grounds around the Rhode Island Statehouse in Providence, Rhode Island has distinctive hedges and walls separating the building from the gardens and wilderness around it. The First Baptist Church in America that Roger Williams founded in 1638 has a hedge around one side separating the church from the street.
Was this created on purpose to reflect Roger Williams vision? I lived in Rhode Island from age 6 to 46. Class trips to the statehouse. Driven by and walked the grounds numerous times. Not a clue as to the potential significance. But right there and then, I knew that I had a theme for a 50 State Capitol trip.
Research on the building of this Capitol or the First Baptist Church in America does not indicate any intent behind the wall and hedge. Symbols do not need human intent to have meaning. Organic symbols can speak louder. As I explored this space and connected the dots of history associated with Providence, Rhode Island, the symbols became a bullhorn to my ears. The rabbit hole of my curiosity gets deeper with each peek I take.
For this trip, coming in from Boston, Massachusetts I had the distinct privilege's of 4 guests to join me on a Capitol stroll to where the church bells toll. Lorelei Flanagan, Mike Silvia, Karen and Diane Morra joined for a walk around the statehouse, to the closest church, Roger Williams National Memorial park, and The First Baptist Church in America.
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church was the physically closest, tucked between Providence Place Mall, Moran shipping, and Renaissance Hotel. The walk up Francis street on the west side was along the hedge and wall separating the Capitol from the street. Around to the front of the Capitol on Smith street and down the hill crossing the river to The Roger Williams National Memorial Park. then down N. Main street to the First Baptist Church.
With that I finished the journey to all 51 US Capitols and their closest churches. Separations and connections litter the landscape. The journey was fascinating and a deep dive into subjects that I had never contemplated. Understanding will never be complete, and that is okay. In fact, it is likely the conclusion that Roger Williams himself came to. A lifelong pursuit of life truths is just that, a lifelong pursuit that doesn't need a perfect ending. Some day we will understand.
I finally found my way to the Capital of Massachusetts on the day after Police found and captured the Boston Marathon bomber. Getting to Boston while the search was on for those responsible seemed to be impossible. This church and state detective was not going to interfere by poking around state grounds looking for church clues. I stayed as a guest at my former bosses residence in Maine. After a fine dinner, we were watching the news coverage and lo and behold, they find the last culprit in a stored boat in a backyard near Boston. Saturday morning, I carefully ventured toward the Massachusetts State House. At the same time, Neil Diamond decided to fly in from California to sing Sweet Caroline at Fenway park.
State troopers greeted me at the fence in front of the state house. I gingerly asked if I could take a picture. One trooper quickly corrected me. "Don't you mean May I take a picture?" Yes sir. "May I take a picture?" I sheepishly asked. He smiled, stepped aside and allowed me to proceed. I then tried to explain my project and asked if they knew where the closest church was. Another trooper stepped forward and said "There is only one church in Boston today and that's a few miles away in Fenway" Of course he was right, The Boston Red Sox were hosting the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park. David Ortiz was declaring that no one was going to mess with this bleeping city, Neil Diamond was going to sing Sweet Caroline in person during the eight inning stretch, and the Red Sox were going to win and celebrate all things taking a turn for the better. At the Church of Boston, Fenway Park before a sold out crowd singing praises skyward. So there is no separation of church and state in Massachusetts. At least while the Red Sox are playing.
After chuckling at our jokes, the Troopers stood their ground and pointed to the right side of the Capitol. I walked over and found I sign on the side street pointing to the Church on the Hill. Literally a couple of shuffle steps across the street from the wall of the statehouse. Now, this did not look like any of the churches I found along my states journey. It look like an apartment house. Brick with a moving van in front and Boston Society of New Jerusalem on a small placard over the door. It's history is long and fascinating. churchonthehillboston.org will give you all you need to know about it's founding and beliefs. For my research, it is the closest church church physically residing next to a state Capitol. On Bowdoin street in Boston. Established in 1823 based on the Theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg.
Who knew? Here in the belly of the American Revolution, the closest church is a handshake away from the state house but the only church in Boston is Fenway Park. I'm sure Paul Revere would be shocked. Certainly a day that I did not see coming along my path. Speaking of paths, it was time to follow a path blazed many years earlier by a man named Roger Williams, as he was expelled from this area around Boston. South I must head to Rhode Island.
A thirteen mile seacoast separates Maine from Massachusetts today. It took 44 years before Maine was able to separate from Massachusetts Bay Colony and become a state in 1820. The first capital city was Portland but from the beginning the contest to build a more centrally located Capitol included 7 cities. Portland, Brunswick, Hallowell, Waterville, Belfast, Wiscasset, and Augusta. Built in only one year after becoming the sate capital this beautiful Capitol building has been steady and sturdy since 1832.
3 miles north of Augusta on the Kennebec river a chapel was built in 1646 on Gilley's point and dedicated to St. Mary of the Assumption. The Catholic population was growing rapidly from 1820 to 1836 with the lumber industry near Augusta. A Unitarian church on the East side of the Kennebec river was purchased for a growing St. Mary church for 10 years until the new St. Mary Church was built on State street in 1846. In 1887, St. Mary of the Assumption was dedicated in the memory of the first Indian chapel built 220 years earlier on the Kennebec river. Multiple Catholic churches have sprung up from the roots of St. Mary's throughout Augusta and surrounding communities as far away as Bangor.
A steady and sturdy Capitol and a steadily growing church community stand in the shadow of each other in Augusta, Maine. The Kennebec river connects their history while State street separates their proximity. Both stand strong over time. As I finish my story in Maine, back in Massachusetts another story is coming to a conclusion. That discovery will be next in Boston.
When one thinks of the image of the perfect New England town, Montpelier, Vermont should be at the top of the list. It's small, in fact the smallest state capital in population. It has snow, fall colors, mountains and picturesque river valleys. The State House is centrally located between two Christ churches along State street. Life appears to be simple and cohesive, at least from the perspective of my one day visit in the spring of 2013.
The Capitol building is pure white and the third in Montpelier since the Capital was moved here from Windsor in 1808. The first building was turned into the state Supreme court in 1833. The second was mostly destroyed by fire in 1858 but the Portico was saved and todays structure includes that saved portion. You can drive right up to the front on state street, throw a few quarters in the parking meter and enjoy it's simple beauty.
The two churches closest to the state house are both Christ denominations. Christ Church Episcopal built in 1868 to the right, and First Church of Christ, Scientist to the left , one of many Christian Scientist Reading rooms established by Mary Baker Eddy at the turn of the 19th century. Christ Church Episcopal has survived fire in 1903, flood in 1927, and a steeple failure in 1963. First Church of Christ, Scientist has multiple resources and services coordinated with it's Mother Church Campus in Boston.
Church and State, all in proper alignment in this quaint state Capital. So quaint, that it is the only state capital that you will not find a McDonalds restaurant within it's city limits. For that experience, you will need to wander over to Interstate 89. I-89 will take me to the most Eastern continental capital in Augusta, Maine.
The only thing I knew about Albany prior to my arrival was it was the place my birth certificate came from. I was born in New Hartford, NY on the Utica city limits. We would pass the interstate signs for Albany on the way to Rhode Island. 55 years later I enter the New York State Capital for the first time. It was a dark night, but suddenly as I turned up State Street from the Thruway this huge Castle like Capitol erased all the darkness. I parked on State street in front of the impressive architecture of St. Peter's Church and thought this will be an easy connection. I was partially right. The sight symbolism was evident. The story of church and state a bit deeper.
This Capitol had a long road to it's present building. It took 32 years of construction 1867- 1899, 3 different architects to replace the first Capitol building in Albany after becoming the New York capital in 1797. Previous state capital locations were in New York City, Kingston, Hurley, and Poughkeepsie. New York's history as the Dutch colony of New Netherland is where it's church origins come from.
St. Peter's church was born as The Church of England's Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. The Rev. Thomas Barclay arrived in Albany in 1704 and his primary ministry was directed to the Iroquois tribes and the British garrison. This lead to the building of the first Anglican church in Albany in 1716. Two more churches replaced the original in 1803 and 1859. This is where St. Peter's Episcopal church stands now.
I did not see The First Church in Albany which was a few blocks NE of the Capitol. It was founded in 1642 and is the oldest church in Upstate New York. The Dutch fur trading post of Fort Orange was incorporated as Beverwijck ("Beavertown) in 1652 and named Albany in 1664. In 1689 this Church begins mission to Mohawk Indians, continues until 1738; 332 Indians are baptized by 1763. In 1720 Church is incorporated as the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in the City of Albany. Long Church names were clearly the rage in the early 1700's. 1938 brought a merger with other churches and a simple name. The First Church of Albany. A summer Drive -in service began in 1974 and by all accounts seems to be quite healthy almost 380 years later.
It was time to cross the Hudson river and head to New England where history drips off the mountains and into the sea. I'll see you in the next chapter played out in the Green Mountain state.
My column is called Capitols and Churches and it is my story of the 51 Capitols I visited in 2013 to find church and state symbolism between each Capitol and it's closest physical church. The one detour from this mission was to Danbury, Connecticut on the way to Hartford. Why? Because of the 1801 letter sent to President Thomas Jefferson from the Danbury Baptist Association. His response letter has been widely recognized for his metaphor answer that included "separation of church and state. So I had to stop by and see what remains of the Danbury Baptists in 2013.
I met my friend Caryl for coffee and we went searching for Baptist churches in Danbury. It was somewhat elusive as the Association has scattered over the many years. We did meet one pastor who mentioned the government controlling the rules of their meeting space for fellowship and he pointed Caryl in the direction of the cemetery were some of the original writers were buried. She continued her search later and I continued on to Hartford. I did however find this article that captures the history of Danbury Baptists from then to now. http://doverfirstbaptist.org/about/separation-of-church-state.
It was dark when I arrived in Hartford and the closest church building I could find was Second Church of Christ Scientist. Organized in 1907 it was sold to the state in 2008 and now is the state library. If I had walked further east down toward the Connecticut river I would have found First Presbyterian Church of Hartford. The first group of this church met in Gilmans Saloon in 1851. Four moves later they built a church at the corner of Capitol and Clinton.
The current capitol is the third capitol building of Connecticut. Two in Hartford and one in New Haven. From the American Revolution until after the Civil War, Connecticut maintained multiple capitols alternating on a seasonal basis. The architect Ithiel Town engineered Center Church (1812), Trinity Church (1813), and designed the State House (1827) on the Green in New Haven. The Old State House in Hartford is still standing and was designed in 1792. After Hartford won the competition to be the sole Capital, the current Statehouse was built and finished in 1878. The site was chosen because it is adjacent to Bushnell Park and its abundant open space.
The closest church to both the old and new Capitol buildings in Hartford is appropriately called Center Church- the first church of christ UCC. The first two meeting houses were built on the site of the Old State House today. The third and fourth were built on its current site within view of both state houses.
My quick visit in the dark to Hartford in 2013 just scratched the surface of what I would find out about Capitol and Church history in Connecticut. It is and deep and long journey of discovery that still matter in the debates of today.
My visit to Trenton came with an approach from US 1 in Pennsylvania over the Delaware river. The State Capitol of New Jersey is the closest capitol building to state border of any state capitol. As you cross the river I thought that it will be an easy location to explore. I was wrong. It's golden dome is easy to spot from the South or even the East, but it is actually tucked into a number of urban buildings. I managed to find a space to park on State Street and strolled to the front entrance. Built in 1792 it is the third-oldest state house in continuous use in the United States. I also thought that this must be where Trenton growth started and the state surely was ahead of the church in being established here. Once again, I was wrong.
I walked a few blocks north then a couple of blocks west and found two old churches that actually preceded state government showing up. St. Michael's Episcopal church was founded in 1703 among farms and dirt roads in the area called "The Township of Hopewell" (Now Ewing) This is where members of the Church of England wanted to found their church. This area is now a marker on the grounds of the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital. Trenton prior to the Revolutionary War was just a small village maybe 100 houses, and Episcopal church on King street which was named St. Michael's, probably because the cornerstone was laid on on the Feast of St. Michael. This location became very instrumental in the battle of Trenton with the church grounds the place of hand to hand fighting. No Weapons could be used on church grounds and church services were suspended on July 7, 1776 to close the church indefinitely. The next day the Declaration of Independence was read on the steps of the Trenton Court House. Fighting continued until January 4th , 1983 when it opened again.
The history of the church across the street from St. Michael's is The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption, which is where the Commander of the Hessian army was mortally wounded and died on December 27, 1776. it wasn't until 1865 when the property was purchased by Reverend Anthony Smith that St. Mary's was established and dedicated. the church was destroyed by fire in 1956 and a new Cathedral erected and dedicated by 1959. I walked back to my car near the Capitol amazed by the distinctions of site and history between these three buildings. Church , War and State were the timeline of this story in Trenton, New Jersey.
Dover, Delaware: "fervent Dover" established Wesley United Methodist as the first state government was establishing it's first state house.
Delaware was the first state to sign the U.S. Constitution. The old state house in Dover was constructed from 1787 to to 1791. Wesley United Methodist Church was established in 1778 and became a center for early preachers. Their first chapel was finished in 1784 with considerable help from Kent County Chief Executive Caesar Rodney. Bricks from this chapel were used to build the present church on State Street in 1850 one block north of the old statehouse. By 1931 the need for a new state capitol building resulted in the Delaware Legislative Hall being built on the Green to the East.
This is what I found when I arrived on an April night in 2013. The church and state buildings looked like they were properly planned and separated, but still connected as common neighbors around the central green. I returned in August of 2021 and connected the Dover dots of history in this space. Various signs around the green point to the carefully planned seeds of church and state here. I highly encourage a trip away from the Interstate to the Delaware Capitol in Dover.
Annapolis, Maryland: Oldest State Capitol, former U.S. Capitol, St. Anne crown the two highest points.
Drive into the center of Annapolis off of US 50 and two buildings will capture your attention. This is by design as laid out in province documents as far back as 1695. When the capital of the province was moved to Annapolis, the royal governor laid out a street plan that organized the highest point of two circles for the state house and the second highest circle for the church. Three statehouses have occupied the top spot with the current one being the oldest U.S. State capitol in continuous use dating back to 1772. In 1783 and 1784 it also served as U.S. Capitol. Queen Anne became Monarch in 1702 and the first St. Anne's Episcopal church was built about 1700. The current and third St. Anne's dates back to 1859 after a spectacular fire on Valentines day in 1858 burned down the second church building.
The three buildings on each circle are connected as church and state were connected in Colonial times. In 1692, on order of the king and queen, William and Mary, became a crown colony, and the Maryland provincial assembly, then located in St. Mary's City, voted "the Establishment of the Protestant Religion within this Province." Thirty Church of England parishes were set up throughout the colony, one of which became St. Anne's. Sheriffs were required to collect taxes, paid in tobacco, to be turned over to parish vestries to build necessary churches and chapels and then use the proceeds to support the clergy. Imagine the outrage this setup would cause in today's world.
Opposition of Quakers and Roman Catholics in Maryland led the monarchs' Privy Council to veto the act. The act was passed and rejected three more times before Queen Anne signed it after becoming monarch. The Act included provisions for religious toleration for both Catholics and Quakers who were allowed to have their own places of worship but had to pay the tobacco tax. You can dive deeper into these church and state connections by going to www.stannes-annapolis.org/history.
The State House grounds had it's own symbols of distinction leaning toward a separation of space from it's lower church circle. The capitol is topped by the largest wooden dome in the United Sates constructed without nails. Construction was started in 1772 but not finished until 1797 due to the ongoing Revolutionary War and maybe that lack of nails. The large dome is topped by a balustraded balcony, another octagonal drum and a lantern capped by a lightning rod. The rod was constructed and grounded according to the direct specifications of its inventor, Benjamin Franklin. The building was surrounded by a low brick wall in 1818. Could this be a wall of separation between church and state? Actually, it was to prevent cattle incursions, and was replaced by an iron fence with a granite base in 1836.
The history of church and state connections and separation can be studied here on two circles on the crown of Annapolis in the state of Maryland. Take a small detour off US 50 before the bay bridge and the US Naval Academy for a royal lesson in time.
John Harris Jr. plotted out the land on the hill by the Susquehanna River and named it after his father. He then gave 4 acres and 21 square perches to the state as part of his proposal in 1789 contingent on being used for the capital. Initially the legislature moved from Philadelphia to Lancaster for ten years because Lancaster had a larger population than rural Harrisburg. In 1812, the first of three Capitol buildings was finished. The Hills Capitol won the first ever contest to create a State Capitol, not because it was on a hill. It was the name of the winning architect. On Feb 2nd, 1897 the Hills Capitol burned to the ground.
Henry Cobb from Chicago was selected as the architect to build a new Capitol, which he started but ran out of funding. Governor Hastings selected a pay as you go method of paying. The homeless legislature meet in the Methodist church close by until 1899, then moved to the unfinished building that Cobb himself called ugly. In 1901 a new Capitol commission was formed and required a Pennsylvania architect. Joseph Huston was selected and continued to completion in 1906. Governor Pennypacker welcomed President Theodore Roosevelt to the dedication who proclaimed the new Capitol "the handsomest building I ever saw".
The journey of Pennsylvania State Capitol Harrisburg history is full of H's. Harris to Hills to Henry to homeless to Hastings to Huston until Pennypacker and Roosevelt found it to be the handsomest.
Grace Methodist Episcopal Church built between 1873 and 1878 was in the right place when the Capitol burned in 1897. Some historians say that it saved Harrisburg as the State Capitol. With no where to meet, Lancaster, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia pitched themselves as landing spots. The clergy and congregation opened it's doors and Sunday School rooms to the legislature for 2 years while the Henry Cobb Capitol was under construction. It's prominent location on State street was the perfect substitute.
One block to the East another prominent and beautiful church was built in 1859. Pine Street Presbyterian patrons met in Senate chambers for the first year during construction. One block south of Grace Methodist on State Street a third church building rose from chapel to Cathedral from 1807 to 1907. St. Patrick's Cathedral with it's green dome is actually at the corner of Church and State Street, directly in front of the current Capitol.
Most events now are held on the North side in the sprawling Capitol complex. If your visiting the Pennsylvania State Capitol you may want to swing around to the other side where the church bells toll and find a bunch of H H H H H H H history in the Harrisburg Capitol timeline.
The hidden history of a space in the gap between church and state takes time to discover. My first visit to the current Capital of Ohio in 2013 was focused on discovery of the closest church to the State Capitol. However, the best parking was actually a huge garage under the Capitol square block. Walking up to tour the landscape was a little disorienting. I missed the huge statue and description of Christopher Columbus on the SW side. Stumbled across a store front for the Church of Scientology on the NW side. Read the inscriptions of famous Ohioans and their monuments on the West side. Found the huge neon sign of the Ohio Stateman newspaper on the East side. Then noticed the red door of Trinity Episcopal just a crosswalk away on the NE corner. Captured a bunch of pictures and made my way back down into the parking garage under the Capitol. I thought about the risks of an earthquake or more nefarious intentions and the safety of the setup. Then went on my merry way.
The second visit this year was during a tour of the 3 Ohio Capitals with Marie. We tried to catch a Catholic mass at St. Josephs 2 blocks away. Found the Christopher Columbus monuments, and were amazed to see Wedding guests arriving at a reception in the Capitol. We saw the Red door of Trinity but never entered. Hidden beyond the red door is a stained glass story of Ohio history and landmarks. It is best told by this article from Doug Motz. He also passed by the red door many times before slowing down and discovering the charms of the building. His article was written 6 weeks after I visited in March of 2013. Interesting that we were both finding time. Read it here. https://www.columbusunderground.com/history-lesson-a-celebration-of-columbus-history-in-stained-glass-dm1/
The Church in the World can be found behind the Red door at the corner of Third and Broad in downtown Columbus. on the NE corner of Capitol square. As with every Capital visit, there is always room for more discovery. On my next visit Trinity Episcopal will be my first stop after climbing up from underground.
My visit to the Capital of Michigan was actually my fifth to the city of Lansing. My daughter Lorelei attended Cooley Law school for her post graduate degree for 3 years. Moved her in, visited, and proudly saw her graduate with her law degree. This trip was entirely different. The Cooley Law campus is actually a south neighbor to the State Capitol grounds and my daughter stayed in an apartment on the north side. Did I pay attention to the Capitol and it's close church neighbors on any of my previous visits? NO!
Lansing is centrally located in the mitten shaped state of Michigan. It's first Capital was located in Detroit from 1937 to 1847. Lansing has been the Capital ever since then. The town was founded after 1790 by New Yorkers who had been lured westward with the promise of fictitious land plots. After a village was formed they named it Lansing Township after their home village of Lansing in New York. Michigan was predominant Catholic until the 19th century, but has evolved to mostly Protestant today with a significant influx of middle Eastern faiths. Catholics have dropped to less than 20% of the state population.
I had zero interest in state and church history on my previous visits to see Lorelei. This trip was different. Shortly after moving the Capital to Lansing, churches of all faiths popped up within a couple of blocks of the Capitol. Catholic, Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Baptist all lined up on the north side. Each with it's own unique history of formation. Take a stroll to either side of the Capitol grounds and follow the history of it's State,Law,and Church buildings over the last two centuries.
The evening drive from Pierre to Omaha was long. I arrived at the hotel at almost 3am. A good mornings sleep later I was checking out and noticed a pamphlet on the tourist rack in the lobby. Father Flanagan's Boys Town was just down the road on US Route 6. A proper detour was in order. I am so glad I did. The real life story and ongoing legacy of this special place has been immortalized in film, books, song and lasting quotes. An Academy award, "He ain't heavy he's my brother", and a giving foundation for over a century is here for your exploration and understanding.
As I was touring the grounds, I called my Dad in Rhode Island and told him I was on Route 6. Not in Rhode Island, but but Omaha, Nebraska. He said " I was there once, picked up a pamphlet in the lobby while on a business trip." Flanagans calling Flanagans to visit Flanagans. What a script! I learned so much, and you will too.
Onto Lincoln and the tall Capitol built in the shape of a cross. On the north side and main entrance lie three churches. First Christian Church, First Baptist Church, and St. Mary's Catholic Church. Once again Separation of church and state are mere footsteps from each other.
I drove 200 miles down US 83 from Bismarck to Pierre. The quietest Capitol to Capitol journey of my tour. Pretty sure there were less than a dozen cars between the two cities. Pierre, South Dakota is the second smallest Capitol city behind Montpelier, VT. It is also one of only four Capitols to not be serviced by an Interstate highway. Dover, Jefferson City, and Juneau are the others. It is however, serviced by the Missouri river, which plays a multi reasoned part of it's history.
The name Pierre comes from the Fort located across the river Fort Pierre. Fort Pierre was named for an American Fur trader from St. Louis, Pierre Chouteau Jr.. When South Dakota became a state in 1880, Pierre was chosen as it's Capital due to its centrally located position in the new state. I found a peaceful Pierre with it's Capitol and closest churches on a Sunday afternoon.
The closest church Lutheran Memorial Church was literally across the street from the Northwest side of the Capitol. It was also the newest of three I found close by, built in 1942. A few blocks further to the North, I found Saints Peter and Paul Catholic church established shortly after statehood in 1882. The third church is First Congregational UCC, a block behind Lutheran Memorial, the fourteenth location of this community. This church history is truly tied to Pierre, it's native Lakota roots and the Missouri river for it's ministry. The History below is from their website. https://www.pierreucc.org/our-history.html
Our church roots are the most established in the Pierre area; First Congregational Church’s legacy begins in the mission work of Stephen Return Riggs in 1840, carried on by his son, Thomas, in 1872. They began forming relationships with the Lakota that lived on the land, and shared with them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Unlike many missionaries of the time, they didn’t believe that the Indian way of life should be exterminated. They believed with passion that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was meant to be shared with all people everywhere, in their own languages. This led Riggs and others to form the first Lakota Bible, Lakota dictionary, and Lakota hymnal. By learning Lakota and teaching English, the Riggs family planted churches up and down the river, all led by Lakota lay ministers. Today, that tradition still carries on in the life of the Dakota Association – 13 churches on four reservations who are led by Lakota pastors serving their local communities.
Our local congregation took root here in 1880, a few years before South Dakota became a state! The first services were held with a membership of nine people and a minister, Rev. William B. Williams. On November 28, 1880, they organized the first church in Pierre in a railroad construction shack on Coteau Street. Rev. Williams came to Fort Pierre by steamboat and served the Home Missionary Society and preached on ‘both sides of the river.’ Two months later, he brought his wife to Pierre and lived in a tent in what is now Griffin Park. The church would later move from the railroad shack to a tent at Dakota and Fort Street, because the tent was warmer. Moving from one location to another, Eugene Steere writes, “my wife and I would go out on Sunday morning and find we had been ousted from the previous place and have to carry the organ and books to some new-found place.” All in all, the church worshiped in fourteen places before building its first permanent home. With financial help from the East, the small congregation built its first church at the corner of Capitol Avenue and Pierre Street. The church was dedicated September 3, 1882, with the Rev. Thomas Riggs of the Oahe Mission preaching the first sermon. The church building served the congregation until 1932, when a new building was constructed at Highland and Prospect for a cost of $23,200. During the church’s history it has had 29 ministers, including its present pastor, The Rev. Emily Munger.
On the wide open and sprawling prairie, our Congregationalist forefathers and mothers played an integral part in the development of Pierre and surrounding areas. They were involved in government, as educators, doctors, surveyors, ranchers and farmers, tradesmen and women, parents and members of voluntary associations that provided for the interests and needs of the communities.
In 1957, Congregationalists sought to unite in worship with our Reformed, Christian, and Evangelical friends in faith to form what is known as our denominational identity today: The United Church of Christ.
Little did I know of this amazing formation of faith as i walked the rest of the Capitol grounds. A beautiful Capitol Lake was created just Southeast of this black capped Capitol. The quiet beauty of the entire area gave an unusually peaceful feeling for a State Capitol. I can't wait for another chance to visit Pierre and explore further the connection between church and state.