Life Together » Our History
The history of Covenant Presbyterian Church began 160 years ago with the establishment in 1843 of the Welsh Calvanistic Methodist Church. It was the culmination of a dream of the Welsh settlers in Racine who founded the Welsh Church Society. They built their first church structure at 727 Villa Street in 1844 for $400 on land owned by David Jenkins. From 1848 to 1855, the property belonged to William W. Vaughn, Thomas E. Jehu and Humphrey Evans. When the society incorporated in 1855, the property was deeded over to the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Church of Racine, Wisconsin.
The first church was a frame structure 30 feet long and 18 feet wide. The original subscription of funds includes names such as Jones, Evans, Davis and Lewis, family names of individuals who remained an active part of the church up to the present. The building was very plain and unadorned, had a high pulpit at one end, and benches for the women on one side, the men on the other.
In 1851, an addition of 10 feet was made to the building, most of the cost being defrayed through volunteer work and donations. At that point, the church had 99 members.
By 1856, the congregation was growing, and was somewhat more prosperous, so a new brick church was built on the same site. The original building was moved to the rear of the lot. The total cost for the building and furnishings was $4100. The construction contract was awarded to Evan Lewis and Company, owned and operated by a church member. The pews all had doors and were rented to families. In matter of fact, pew rental fees were the main source of church revenue for many years. That same year, the first contracted minister, one Rev. Thomas Foulkes, was hired for the total yearly salary of $400.
In 1876, a room for Sunday School was added at the rear of the church. A panel at the back of the pulpit could be removed to combine the two room spaces in case of large attendance. Some additional improvements including a gallery were made in 1883. This improved brick building served the congregation for 50 years, from 1856 to 1906.
The third church structure at the site was constructed in 1906. The cost had by then escalated to $29,300, all of which was subscribed in advance of building, permitting the church to be dedicated debt-free.
Declining church use of the Welsh language was a factor that helped encourage a merger with the Presbyterian Church, USA, in 1920, and the name changed to Tabernacle Presbyterian Church. With the dissolution of the Welsh Presbytery in 1954, Tabernacle joined the Milwaukee Presbytery.
The congregation voted to relocate in 1960. They purchased 4-2/3 acres of the Chris Thompsen farm at the end of Ohio Street. Groundbreaking took place June 17, 1962, the cornerstone was laid in September, and first services in the new building were held March 3, 1963. The name approved by the Milwaukee Presbytery was Church of the Covenant, United Presbyterian in the USA. An educational wing was added in 1978.
Following a quite similar path as the Welsh community, in 1926 a group of Hungarian immigrants founded an Hungarian language congregation known as the First Hungarian Reformed Church. The members met in the Trinity Lutheran Church building at the corner of Albert Street and Milwaukee Avenue (now Martin Luther King Drive). On an intermittent basis, services were conducted by a pastor from the Milwaukee Hungarian Church. When the Trinity building became available in April 1927, the congregation purchased it for $13,500. The original membership was almost entirely made up of peasant farmer immigrants from poor sections of Hungary with very little education. Many came to this country with the intention to earn enough to return to Hungary to live a better life. In order to provide funds to employ a part-time minister, the members, mostly women who belonged to the Lorantffy Zsursanne Women’s Guild, held many events to raise money, such as chicken suppers, grape harvest dances, and making and selling Hungarian sausage and noodles.
Church services were originally conducted in Hungarian. Their sanctuary was also plain and unadorned and had gender-segregated seating. After a merger with the Evangelical Synod, traditions were altered and for the first time, the sanctuary could be decorated and embellished. After this merger, the church name became the Hungarian Evangelical Reformed Church.
Somewhat later, two services were conducted, one in Hungarian and the other in English until with the decline in native speaking membership, all services were conducted in English.
In the early 1950’s, the congregation was renamed the Messiah Evangelical Reformed Church, reflecting the decline in Hungarian influence. When the Evangelical and Reformed Church merged with the Christian Congregational Church in 1957, the church was renamed the Providence United Congregational Church .
In 1973, a decision was made to merge with Covenant Presbyterian Church. A service of union was conducted by the Presbytery of Milwaukee on May 20, 1973. In 1991, the congregation voted to create the position of Associate Pastor.
In September, 1997, the name was changed to Covenant Presbyterian Church (P.C.USA). In 2006, the church building was expanded to add a gathering space and an elevator.
Note: This history was compiled from four sources: A 1933 history of the Welsh church, a brief church history written in the early 1990s, Henry Vasy's 1993 history entitled Providence Church, and historical notes recorded in 2003 by Frank Bogyos.