In 1936, a small group of Christians began meeting on Sundays in the home of Mr. and Mrs. J.J. Fisher. The Fisher home on Cates Avenue in St. Louis was a large, turn-of-the-century house. Every Sunday the family moved their dining room furniture to one end, and the worship services were held in the connecting living and dining rooms.
After a time this loose body of Christians rented a banquet hall in a hotel on Hamilton Avenue. They called or wrote interested people and invited them to attend their services. On Sunday evening, January 15, 1939 the group voted to become a congregation of the Bible Presbyterian Church.
The congregation continued to grow and purchased a church building in 1939 on the northeast corner of Union and Enright Avenues. In October 1940, The Rev. John W. Sanderson Jr. was ordained and installed as the church’s first pastor.
Union and Enright
In December 1943, The Rev. Francis Schaeffer began his pulpit ministry. Children were at the heart of Mr. Schaeffer’s call for evangelism. When the first Summer Bible School was held in 1944, it lasted four weeks and the average attendance was an astounding 217 students. Feeling the call of God, Mr. Schaeffer was granted a leave of absence in 1947 to travel Europe, surveying its post-war physical and spiritual needs. While there he began a work with college students known as L’Abri, “The Shelter.” It is still in operation, and is located in several countries around the world.
In April 1948 the Rev. Calvin H. Harrah from Boothwyn, Pennsylvania was installed as pastor. Upon his departure, the Rev. John V. Kootz, a member of the faculty of Midwest Bible Institute in St. Louis, was made interim pastor and served until April 1953.
The Rev. Donald MacNair began his ministry in April 1953. This uniquely qualified servant could not have been called to leadership of the church at a more opportune time. In evaluating how best to serve its worshipping population, the session decided to relocate the church to west St. Louis County. In January of 1953, the corporation approved the decision to move the church to the present site on Ballas Road in Town and Country. The groundbreaking ceremony was held on September 26, 1953, and the cornerstone was laid May 9, 1954.
In 1961 the church changed its name to The Covenant Presbyterian Church of St. Louis.
In 1964, Mr. MacNair concluded his work at Covenant Church. The Rev. Bill Armes, began his work in the church in September 1965. Also in 1965, Covenant’s denomination merged with another to become the Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod (RPCES).
Mr. Armes had a heart for missions and evangelism, and the church held missions conferences on a regular basis. The growth of the congregation required more space in which to carry out the ministries. In May 1968, a second addition to the church building was completed.
The fall of 1974 saw the church usher in a new level of ministry to its families. Covenant Christian School opened its doors to eighteen elementary-school aged children. The school experienced steady growth, using additional facilities to accommodate students. The school continued until 1990, when Twin Oaks Presbyterian Church established itself as a body and moved the school.
Mr. Armes resigned in 1976 and Rev. Peter Cross served as supply until the arrival of the Rev. H. Timothy Fortner in 1978.
It was during the time of Mr. Fortner’s term that the denomination to which The Covenant Presbyterian Church of St. Louis belonged, the RPCES, was invited to join the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA). Through a process called “joining and receiving,” the denomination was accepted into the PCA. Covenant became a PCA church in 1982.
In June 1983, Mr. Fortner resigned and the Rev. Rodney Stortz was called. Rev. Stortz, who had been actively involved in the church while he attended Covenant Seminary, was not a stranger to the congregation and was welcomed back with joy.
Covenant Christian School had continued to grow, as had the size of the congregation, and once again, the lack of space in the building had become a problem. The congregation approved a building plan, but the church did not receive the support of the Hawthorne Estates neighbors, who had concerns about the size and scope of the project. When church representatives presented the plan to the city of Town and Country, it was met with great opposition from the neighbors. City planners rejected the expansion plan in 1987.
Mr. Stortz and much of the congregation continued with the vision for a larger church. After much prayer and discussion on June 1, 1988, the Corporation voted to purchase a twenty-two acre tract of land in the Village of Twin Oaks. The session called a special meeting of the corporation on January 22, 1989 to vote on a recommendation to move the church from its present location, sell the Ballas building, and build a new church building on the land. The recommendation failed to pass by the required two-thirds majority, with 56% for and 44% against.
The majority group wanting to move did not have enough votes to pass the measure; the minority group wanting to remain at the Ballas location did not have the support of the majority to continue on in the church’s same tradition. The final resolution to the problem was to divide the church into sister churches. The majority group formed Twin Oaks Presbyterian Church and proceeded to build the new building, bringing with it the renamed Twin Oaks Christian School.
With the departure of Rev. Stortz, a new leader for the congregation was sought. The search committee, assembled by Covenant’s session, after examination of several candidates, moved to call George Robertson in February of 1991.
Mr. Robertson, sought out to restore relationships with the neighbors in Hawthorne Estates. The Lord affected such a rich relationship that the neighbors actually encouraged the church to reconsider a building program. Throughout the long six-year planning process, the neighbors provided unanimous and public support.
On Nov. 7, 1999 Pastor Robertson stood preaching his first sermon in the newly renovated and expanded sanctuary, he stood behind a beautiful pulpit of exquisite wood. On the front of the pulpit is an engraved picture of a pelican mother. This is one of the Church’s most ancient symbols of the atonement. It was once thought that in times of famine, the mother pelican would pluck out her breast and feed her young with her blood. That image of self-sacrifice is an appropriate symbol of the price Christ paid for His people.
In November 2006, Covenant called its current pastor, Rev. Ryan Laughlin. Ryan and his family arrived in January 2007, thrilled to be part of the next chapter of the church’s history. Under Rev. Laughlin’s leadership the church has experienced steady growth and a renewed desire to impact the church’s surrounding community.
In 2014, Covenant celebrated her 75th Anniversary. In celebration, Covenant Church member made the video below.
Why a Pelican
Carved into the front of our pulpit is one of the most ancient symbols of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. Often referred to as “the pelican in her piety,” this symbol offers a vivid picture of how Christ’s death brings us life: a mother pelican, during a time of famine, will pluck her breast to feed her young with her blood. As a church, Christ’s stunning grace is not only front-and-center in our sanctuary but, more importantly, in our lives. The image of the pelican serves as a frequent reminder that we are deeply rooted in God’s grace so that we might reach out with God’s love.