Time Machine

Time machine: a new church's first Christmas in Cedar Rapids

Members built Church of the Nazarene on K Street SW

David Pfifle

This undated photo shows the First Church of the Nazarene, 1328 K St. SW, which was built by its members in 1936. One of the first services in the church was on Christmas Eve, 1936.
David Pfifle This undated photo shows the First Church of the Nazarene, 1328 K St. SW, which was built by its members in 1936. One of the first services in the church was on Christmas Eve, 1936.

A New Year’s Day item in the 1926 Gazette announced the formation of the “newest denomination of Cedar Rapids churches,” the Church of the Nazarene, an evangelical Christian denomination founded in the 19th century. Ten years later, the congregation would celebrate its first Christmas in a church they’d built themselves.

In its beginnings, church members initially met in the home of their first minister, the Rev. E.R. Borton, at Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street SW. By Jan. 1, 1936, they had moved to rental space in the IOOF Oriental Hall at 121 Second St. NE.

The church bought its first permanent home in 1927 — a house that had belonged to pioneer Cedar Rapids grocer, Irving C. Emery, at 400 F Ave. NW.

In May 1928, the Rev. E.E. Russell arrived and, under his leadership, the congregation attached a frame addition to the rear of the house for worship. The addition was meant to be temporary, but the Great Depression and its financial difficulties kept the congregation where it was.


Finally, in a morning church service in October 1936, the church board presented the congregation with a proposition for a new building.

The members were solidly behind the proposal, pledging $2,200 and their labor in helping build it.

Two 60-foot-wide lots at 1328 K St. SW were acquired from the John W. Yuill estate. Building plans were donated by a man who had once worked for a Chicago architectural firm.

On Nov. 5, without ceremony, 20 men gathered at the site to begin digging the basement.

“We just all pitched in and moved dirt,” the Rev. Mr. Russell said.

Ten days later, there was a 5-foot-deep excavation for a basement, and footings had been laid.

The church members worked side-by-side with Pastor Russell, who showed up every day dressed in overalls to work on the building.


Since no one in the congregation was a mason, the members mixed mortar and became apprentices for the hired masons who raised the cinder-block walls.

The members toiled under floodlights during the short, chilly November and December days, laying roofing and nailing floors.

On Thanksgiving Day, a crew of 30 met to build and raise the 40-foot roof trusses that eliminated the need for posts inside the church auditorium.

While the work went on, a Thanksgiving feast was prepared for the workers and their families at a vacant bakery at 1315 K St. SW. The building also doubled as a place of worship during construction.


The finished building was 40 feet wide and 70 feet long. A belfry at the southeast corner rose 10 feet above the eaves.

The basement walls extended 4 feet above the ground to accommodate six windows on the north and four on the south. Two auditoriums with classroom space were divided by a hallway that led to stairs to the street-level. A wide front stairway led to the main auditorium, which seated 350. Classrooms flanked the stairs.

The Gazette, in a Dec. 13, 1936, article, reported, “In keeping with the spirit of the Apostle Paul, who in his first letter to the Corinthians observed that ‘we are laborers together with God,’ the local Nazarenes are dedicating not only their financial benevolences but also their labor to the building of their new house of worship at the corner of K Street and 14th Avenue SW.”


The first services in the new church were announced in The Gazette on Dec. 18, 1936: “Members of the Church of the Nazarene will present themselves with a long-awaited Christmas gift Sunday. They will hold the first services in their new church building, built mostly by their own labor, at 1328 K St. SW. One of the first services in the new structure will be the annual Christmas service at 7:30 p.m.”

A prayer and praise service was conducted on Christmas Eve.


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Remarkably, the church wasn’t officially dedicated until March 1950. The Rev. C.D. Gadbow, who became pastor in August 1949, explained that work on the interior of the church had never been finished. In the first few months of 1950, painting, flooring and decorating were completed at a cost of $10,000. New pews and a pulpit were added.

The church sponsored a new congregation, Oakland Church of the Nazarene, on 29th Street NE, in 1958.


In 1965, the congregation faced the possibility of finding a new home when one of the proposals for the new Cedar Valley Expressway (later Interstate 380) threatened to take out 186 homes and the K Street church.

With that prospect in sight, the church, headed by the Rev. Forrest Whitlatch, bought a 900-by-230-foot lot at 3113 First Ave. SW for a new church.

The congregation’s first service in its newest home was on Feb. 9, 1969. This time, the church’s formal dedication happened on Oct. 26, just eight months after the first service.

When the freeway took another route, the former building on K Street became the Trinity Nazarene Church in 1970. Damaged in the 2008 flood, the building was demolished in 2012.

In 1985, the congregation paid off its mortgage after the Rev. Don Scarlett began a campaign to raise the $61,000 needed to make the church debt-free.

The church named its former pastor, the Rev. Whitlatch, as senior pastor in 1996. Whitlatch had been retired after serving as superintendent of the Iowa District of the Church of the Nazarene until 1990.


First Church of the Nazarene’s current pastor, the Rev. Timothy Carter, has served the congregation since 1997.



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