Time Machine

Time Machine: Cedar Rapids 'Bohemian tabernacle' 110 years later

The church building that began as the Bohemian Reformed Church in 1910 is shown Sept. 14, 2020, amid the debris created
The church building that began as the Bohemian Reformed Church in 1910 is shown Sept. 14, 2020, amid the debris created by the Aug. 10 derecho in Cedar Rapids. (Diane Fannon-Langton/correspondent)
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The south side of the roof on the old church at 1510 Second St. SW is missing following the Aug. 10 derecho in Cedar Rapids. Broken windows are visible above the tall piles of debris lining the curb in front of the 110-year-old building.

An orange card is tacked to the front door warning against entry.

Bohemians

The church was built by the Bohemian Reformed Church, which was formed in September 1909 with the guidance of the Rev. F.S. Bromer of the First Reformed Church on Eighth Avenue SW.

The parishioners elected a pastor, the Rev. Joseph Balcar of Ely, and began meeting at off times in the First Reformed Church. Balcar became ill and took a leave of absence. While he was gone, church members decided they could raise enough money to build their own church.

The 70 parishioners bought two lots for $1,000 on Second Street SW. They put up a 28-by-42-foot tent, promptly dubbed “The Bohemian Tabernacle” by neighbors.

“The Bohemian Reformed church will not be the largest church on the west side, for the new congregation cannot do too much at once,” the Evening Gazette reported Aug. 20, 1910.

“It will be a beautiful small church, of modern style, and will be large enough to accommodate the congregation,” the article continued. “All that can be said of the new building at present is that it will be of brick.”

Construction began immediately, before the cornerstone was laid Oct. 16, 1910.

Winter had set in by the time the basement was finished, and the congregation held services there while the church was built. The cost: about $6,500, or around $170,000 in today’s dollars.

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It opened its doors for its first service on Christmas Eve that year, debt-free. The dedication was Jan. 15, 1911.

“The ceremony will be carried out according to an old Bohemian custom of illustrating the trials which the congregation had to undergo in getting its new church,” the Evening Gazette reported.

Balcar was pastor at the church until he moved to Chicago in 1914.

New pastors

Matthew Spinka, a young pastoral student from Chicago Theological Seminary, came to Cedar Rapids every two weeks to conduct services. In June 1915, a year before he graduated from the seminary, a special ruling allowed Spinka to be ordained early and he became the church’s second pastor.

Spinka continued studying at Coe, graduating in 1918. He served the Bohemian Reformed Church irregularly for another year, and he and Zdenka Dvorak of Swisher were married at the church in June 1919.

Spinka went on to become a noted Czech scholar and theologian, teaching at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University in New York City.

The Rev. Jaroslav T. Stulc served as the church’s pastor from October 1919 to May 1922 before he returned to his native Czechoslovakia to lead a parish east of Prague that was part of the old state church of Krouna. During his tenure, the name of the church changed from Bohemian Reformed to Czech Reformed.

Stulc was succeeded by the Rev. Frank Helmich, who arrived in Cedar Rapids in July 1922 from Uniontown, Pa.

The new pastor hosted a pair of noted guests in November when Bishop Matej Pavlik, the head of the 2 million-member Czechoslovakian church, and Capt. Theodore Dimitrjevich, a Czech war hero, visited.

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Helmich served Czech Reformed until April 1, 1939, when he moved to Pennsylvania, where he became pastor of the Presbyterian church in Lyndora.

The Rev. Milo Filipi was the last pastor of the Czech church, serving from October 1939 until he retired on July 1, 1958.

The last service at the old Czech Evangelical and Reformed Church was held July 6, 1958.

The next Sunday, the congregation began its merger with First Evangelical and Reformed Church, which resulted in the Eden United Church of Christ in 1958. (The last service at Eden UCC was Nov. 11, 2012.)

New churches

A little more than 10 months later, a new congregation had moved into the little brick church. After renovations, including adding a vestry, pulpit, altar and railings, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church held its first service May 24, 1959.

The Lutherans met there for about six years before buying a lot on 42nd Street NE to build a new chapel in 1966.

The church on Second Street was bought by Triumph, the Church and Kingdom of God in Christ. The building soon became the Ministry of Deliverance Church.

In June 1975, the name was changed to Redemption Missionary Baptist Church, with the Rev. Harmon Webb as pastor. He was followed by the Rev. Bruce Paige Jr. and then Bishop Robert Green, who saw the church through repairs after the Flood of 2008 and a move to a bigger building at 701 25th St. NE in 2017.

The church, though, kept its historical site, which now has derecho damage.

Comments: d.fannonlangton@gmail.com

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