The following history contains excerpts from Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church, 1868 to 1998: An Historical Sketch, a collection of four previously printed histories of the church combined with the newest supplement, compiled and edited July 1998 by the Mount Auburn Living History Task Force, under the leadership of Ruth F. Rosevear.
In the mid-1800’s, Presbyterians living on Mount Auburn still belonged to downtown churches and made the long trip to the city every Sunday. For several years the Sessions of five churches held meetings to consider church extension. At their meeting of December 19, 1866, the following resolution was adopted:
“Resolved, That a Committee be appointed to solicit the names of the persons willing to enter into the formation of an Old School Presbyterian Church to be located on Mount Auburn so soon as a sufficient sum of money is subscribed to purchase a lot and to erect a Church building and that the same Committee be empowered to solicit subscriptions upon the field and in the city for the purpose aforesaid.”
On the evening of January 10 1867, Mr. Moses F. Thompson, Mr. Hugh Stewart, Mr. John Wynne, Col Samuel S. Fisher, Col. Robert Lachlan, Capt. George L. Rathbone, Mr. Matthew Addy, Mr. Anthony D. Bullock, Mr. Obediah Nehemiah Bush, Mr. George A. McAlpin, and George W. Pickard met in the home of Mr. Thompson. They determined to call a “public meeting” for March 14, 1867, and to invite all Mount Auburn Presbyterians. At the public meeting, $25,000 had been agreed upon as a minimum amount for lot and building and the committee reported at a meeting held April 9th that progress toward raising the sum was encouraging.
The lot, where the present church stands, was bought June 1, 1867, from the Hon. William M. Corry. The lot was 226 ft. wide and cost $5,679. By July 30th the architect and the contractor had been selected. The Committee to select a pastor began their work shortly thereafter. The first meeting held in the new church building was a prayer meeting on November 25th, in the basement room which later served for the Sabbath School.
“The cost of erection having exceeded the original estimate by $7,000 or $8,000, additional subscriptions were made and the beautiful edifice was entirely completed and dedicated on the 31st of January, 1869, entirely free of debt at a cost of $32,000.” So read the Minutes.
The church was built of wood and had a steeple. As for the interior, the pulpit stood at the south end of the building. Opposite it was a balcony, with space for an organ and choir, and below the balcony a wide entrance hall.
On March 21, 1869, the Rev. Archibald A. E. Taylor preached in the new church. The entire congregation was attracted to him and at a meeting held March 31st; he was given a unanimous call. He arrived in June and was installed July 23, 1869.
The church, under Mr. Taylor’s leadership, grew rapidly. New members came from other denominations as well as from other Presbyterian churches. The Sabbath school flourished. From its earliest days the Mount Auburn church showed generous willingness to help others. The University of Wooster, a Presbyterian college founded in 1866, gave Mr. Taylor an honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity in 1872 and called him to be its second President. His resignation was accepted with great regret in January, 1873. The second pastor was the Rev. Edward D. Ledyard, who was installed on Monday, April 20m 1874. During Mr. Ledyard’s pastorate, a parsonage was built on the east side of the church. Mr. Ledyard resigned in 1883 to accept a call to the Second Presbyterian Church at Steubenville. At a congregational meeting held May 28, 1884, the Rev. Teunis Slingerland Hamlin was called to be the pastor of Mount Auburn and arrived the first of October. Under his leadership the church experienced great spiritual and temporal prosperity. Unfortunately for Mount Auburn, Mr. Hamlin was called to be the first pastor of the Covenant Church in Washington, D. C. He left Cincinnati in 1886, to the grief of the whole congregation. Almost a year later the next pastor was installed, October 7, 1887. He was the Rev. George Lawrence Spining. When Dr. Spining came to Mount Auburn the population was growing rapidly. After the floods of 1883 and 1884 many families decided to move to the hilltops as soon as they could buy or build houses there. The little church had been outgrown. At a meeting held January 4, 1888, it was definitely determined that a new building was needed.
Then came the disaster.
It happened on Wednesday, October 10, 1888. George, the sexton, had just left for his luncheon and there was nobody in the church. The Rev. Dudley W. Rhodes, rector of the Church of Our Saviour, saw from his windows smoke curling up around the rooF of the Presbyterian Church. The Commercial Gazette told the story thus: “The roof was completely destroyed and had fallen into the handsome auditorium, a confused mass of burned and blackened timbers.”
A congregational meeting was called for October 22, 1888. It was agreed that the necessary funds should be raised to remove the debris and erect a stone structure on the old site. The architect chosen was Mr. H. E. Siter, on a basis of five percent of $45,000 regardless of final cost.
The cornerstone of the new Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church was laid June 24, 1889, with appropriate ceremonies. It can be seen at the northeast corner of the church, near to the building that was once the parsonage. The first service in the new church building was held in the Sunday School room, March 2, 1890, with Mr. Ledyard preaching the sermon.
The pastor chosen for the church in its new home was Mr. Henry Melville Curtis, who was installed December 21, 1890. The congregation worshipped in the Sunday School room for more than a year before the auditorium was ready for use. In May 1892, the church was thriving, but over it hung a debt. The building had cost not the estimated $46,000 but $125,000. The members of the church had been unwilling to dedicate the church to the service of the Lord until they had fully paid for it. Finally, they were able to dedicate it May 3, 1896.
In 1911, Dr. Curtis resigned on account of ill health. The Rev. Charles Lewis Neibel was called to the pastorate in January 1912, leaving shortly after the beginning of the First World War
The seventh pastor was called December 31, 1918, and installed April 21, 1919, the Rev. John Watson Christie. Mr. Christie was an excellent pastor and a hard worker. He built up the church and took interest in civic and church activities in the city. He was especially interested in the hospitals and served on the boards of two of them. Repeatedly during Dr. Christie’s term he was sought by other churches, but declined to leave. In 1931 he accepted the call to the Westminster Presbyterian Church of Wilmington, Delaware.
In February, 1932, the Rev. William Edgar Montgomery was called. Mr. Montgomery was merry and friendly and active in city-wide affairs, especially those connected with religious education. He accepted a call to the Glens Falls Presbyterian Church and moved his family to New York State in December 1938.
In May 1939, the Rev. Bruce Brownlie Maguire was called to the pastorate. Mr. Maguire was just twenty-eight years old when he accepted the call to Mount Auburn. Conscientious, ambitious, the product of training which laid major emphasis on social issues, he felt responsibility for his strong convictions. A forceful preacher, he attracted large congregations and made for himself both adherents and opponents. In May, 1942, the Presbytery though it best to dissolve the relationship between pastor and church.
At a congregational meeting held on Thursday evening, November 11, 1943, Dr. Henry Carter Rogers of Washington, Pennsylvania, was called to the pastorate. Dr. Rogers served the church until 1964. The Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church was fortunate in the stability and devotion of its leadership during this period. Dr. Rogers believed and preached that “Christian love is an undiscourageable goodwill, intelligently directed.” His attitude and example were reflected by the congregation. The church attempted to be all-inclusive. It ministered to all ages from the Cradle Roll to Senior Citizenry, with numerous persons at both extremes. The church membership revealed individual differences, not only in ages but also in education, income, background, and nationality or race. The fellowship these members enjoyed, in spite of their diversity, is evidence that the church achieved unity. There was a “church family” at congregational meetings, family nights, Lenten dinners, and services. All worked, played, ate, studied, and worshiped together.
During the years many gifts have been made to the church, but a very incomplete record has been kept and it is impossible to enumerate them all. In 1889, Mrs. William B. McAlpin gave the organ in memory of her husband, William B. McAlpin. Also in 1889, Mrs. McAlpin gave the stained glass window over the choir in memory of her daughter, Harriet Woodruff McAlpin. In 1889, Mrs. Hugh Stewart gave the rose window in the balcony in memory of her sister. In 1890, the large stained glass window, “The Sower,” in the west end of the church was given in memory of Mr. Anthony Hughes Hinkle by his children. About 1898, Mrs. Matthew Addy presented a marble baptismal font in memory of her mother, Mrs. Jane King. In 1937, Mr. Anthony D. Bullock presented the new chandeliers in memory of his mother, Mrs. Margaret McCredie Bullock. The most significant event in the life of the church during the mid-1940s was the dedication of the room affectionately known as the “Little Chapel”. Through the generous gift of Mr. and Mrs. Bullock, this room was completely rebuilt and refurnished and became a chapel of great beauty. The chapel was dedicated on Sunday, December 29, 1946
Despite the exodus from the Mt. Auburn neighborhood, a number of members remained relatively close to the church, and others found it possible to be active even though they lived miles away. The church had been aware of a responsibility to the community for a long time. Minutes of the Christian Education Committee and of the Session reveal that repeated studies were made of the needs of Christian Education. From 1948 to 1954, there were several surveys and frequent discussions. In 1954, the Session requested that the Trustees find means to provide an adequate building to serve Christian Education. On December 7, 1958, a new Christian Education Building was dedicated.
When the church celebrated its ninety-fifth birthday, Dr. Rogers had been its pastor for almost twenty years. He sometimes expressed fear that he had been with the Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church too long for its good. He was so dynamic, however, that he had not permitted the church to get “set” in its ways. Mount Auburn, through his leadership tried new things constantly.
One of the most stimulating experiences of the Mount Auburn congregation, from 1948 through 1963, was the sponsorship of overseas refugees. The church offered to sponsor forty-two, of whom thirty-five arrived. Sixteen other refugees were associated with the church, making a total of fifty-eight persons who enlarged the vision of the congregation and were in turn encouraged by the concern of Mount Auburn. These friends came from at least seven countries of Europe and Asia; about half of the total came from the Netherlands or through that country from its former Indonesian colony. The families came from a variety of religious, cultural, and economic backgrounds and thus added substantially to the richness of life at Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church. An outstanding characteristic of the Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church over its history has been its willingness to share its resources and services.
Dr. Rogers announced in May 1964, his intention to retire at the end of the year. The congregation was reluctant to concur, but did accede to his request. They joined him in requesting the Presbytery of Cincinnati to dissolve the pastoral relationship, effective December 31, 1964.
A community is always changing, and Mt. Auburn was changed rapidly. Urban renewal was begun in Avondale and Corryville. This resulted in destruction before redevelopment could be seen. The razing of housing in the West End of Cincinnati brought increasing numbers of African-Americans into the area; the exodus of longtime residents began. Dr. Rogers felt that it was important to receive the first African-American members while he was still pastor. As a result of his efforts, adult African-Americans were received into membership and sincerely welcomed.
Over the years, Mt. Auburn has served its community as well as its own membership. Because of its central location in the metropolitan area, many Greater Cincinnati groups met here, including various committees of the Presbytery. Largely through the leadership of its minister, the church was aware of the issues that affected the community it tried to serve. The minutes of the Session, over the years, reveal interest in such matters as voter education, schools, motion picture censorship, fluoridation of water, civil defense, the relation of Church and State, and urban redevelopment. Not only was the church aware of the issues of the day, but it often took a firm stand.
In January 1965, the pulpit nominating committee reported that its unanimous choice was The Rev. Mr. Robert J. Clark, then pastor of the United Presbyterian church at Winchester, Indiana. After being notified of the congregation’s approval of a call to him, Mr. Clark emphasized his desire to develop a ministry centered on the needs of the Mt. Auburn area and in this connection asked that consideration be given to relocating the manse as a conscious part of the church’s strategy for mission. As a step toward meeting this need, a manse was purchased on McMillan Street. Mr. Clark emphasized the importance of doing things with people rather than for them and stimulated a reorganization of the lay leadership into task forces that would reach out into the community and bring many individuals of the neighborhood into the main stream of the life of the congregation. This local outreach included the use of the church by the Mt. Auburn Neighborhood Council for its youth program, tutorial work by Christ Hospital nurses with local elementary school pupils, and family suppers with adult education opportunities. Mr. Clark was an officer of the revived North Cincinnati Neighbors and worked with community and Cincinnati officials to improve life in the neighborhood. Late in 1966 the Mr. Auburn Neighborhood Services project opened on the lower level of the church building with a program supported by federal, local, and church efforts.
The church continued to make its facilities available to other organizations in the community and throughout the Presbytery of Cincinnati. Some of the varied groups included: a hand bell concert sponsored by the Presbytery, the Annual Leadership School conducted by the Council of churches of Greater Cincinnati, the Community Orchestra, the National Association of the Physically Handicapped, the city-wide group called “Parents Without Partners,” the Police Community Relations committee, and the Girl Scouts Area Leadership Group. By action of the Session and the Board of Trustees, the Mt. Auburn Neighborhood Services continued to use the large room under the Social room for their offices. This space was given to them without charge as the Church’s contribution to this community effort.
On August 7, 1967, the pulpit nominating committee was happy to announce to the congregation that they had come to a unanimous decision and would present as a candidate the Rev. Raymond F. Kent, pastor of the Westminster United Presbyterian Church, West Islip, Long Island, New York. Rev. Kent continued in the pulpit until 1971. During his pastorate, he organized our church’s Centennial Festival. An associate pastor, Rev. Duncan Cameron, assisted Rev. Kent. Rev. Cameron began work at Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church in November, 1969. During his pastorate, much of his time was spent with the University community, the staff of the United Christian Ministries, and the community at large.
Two pastors, A. Laten Carter and Harold G. Porter, cover most of the 30 year period from 1968 – 1998. Laten Carter served from 1972 to 1982. Hal Porter was the pastor from 1983 – 1998.
The time before Rev. Carter was called to Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church in 1972 was a low point for our church. Membership had fallen off, slipping from 275 members in 1969 to 189 in 1972. The pulpit nominating committee which called Rev. Carter worked diligently for 11 months. A festive service welcomed Rev. Carter at his installation on November 19, 1972. Just six years after he began at Mount Auburn, Rev. Carter was elected Vice-Moderator of the Presbytery of Cincinnati. The following year he was elected Moderator of the Presbytery.
During Rev. Carter’s ministry, there was a vigorous program to attract new members. Welcome letters reached anyone who had attended services and newlyweds. Brochures alerted college and nursing school students about our church. When anyone moved into the zip code areas of 45219 and 45220, they received letters. As a result, his ten-year ministry reversed the membership decline and stabilized the church to prepare for a new mission.
After retiring, Rev. Carter and Mrs. Carter became active in the church’s worship and ministry. Dr. Porter was greatly pleased. Rev. Carter had followed the More Light movement and encouraged Mount Auburn to become an inclusive church. We did!! Rev. Laten Carter served as pastor emeritus before passing away on December 16, 1997.
The pastor nominating committee recommended Dr. Harold Gordon Porter as the 14th pastor of Mount Auburn on May 29, 1983. After Dr. Porter’s arrival, the congregation became more diverse and reversed the trend of most Presbyterian churches in the city. Between 1983 and 1997, membership increased from 224 to 328. Of his ministry, Dr. Porter said, “Of course, I answered the call to ministry wanting to change the world. Then I found I had to solve budgets and building alterations as well. I went to seminary to be grounded in theology but also discovered more about social justice. There is no such thing as an illegitimate child, and nobody should be overlooked. To do so is to offend the Gospel. Everyone should find his or her true potential. Jesus loved and accepted on the spot. Further, I learned that the church should be involved in the social, political, and economic orders of life. There’s no other world to serve our faith in.”
In 1994, the Cincinnati Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union honored Dr. Porter for his long career of dedication to peace and justice, and the City of Cincinnati recognized “Hal Porter Day.” Mount Auburn, under his leadership, had adopted a policy of inclusion, for which the church has received national notice. Dr. Porter’s tenure of 15 years is the second longest at Mount Auburn after Dr. Curtis and Dr. Rogers, each with 21 years. He retired July 31, 1998 and was elected Pastor Emeritus. On June 7, 1998, Hal preached his last sermon suggesting if Mount Auburn ever needed an epitaph it would be a “door stopper” keeping the church doors wide open to all persons.
As early as 1986, a motto listed in the Annual Report stated, “There are no barriers to belonging that the people of God cannot overcome.” During 1991, a report entitled, “Presbyterians and Human Sexuality 1991” was issued by the denomination, and subsequently studied in Adult Forum. Consequently, Mount Auburn then saw a need to make a stand regarding the 1978 General Assembly Policy Statement which was a statement that had held back homosexuals from full participation in the Presbyterian Church. The Church & Society committee drafted a preliminary policy statement that would assure homosexual persons of our welcome. This would give homosexual persons the opportunity to hold ordained leadership positions in defiance of the 1978 Policy Statement. This statement was refined by the committee and approved by the Session in 1991. We at Mount Auburn clearly understood that our policy might be perceived by the denomination as ecclesiastical disobedience, but we felt it was the denomination that had the faulty position. Even though we believe strongly in the Presbyterian Church and had no desire to leave it, we decided not to become anxious about our future in it. We knew that we must stand uncompromisingly with homosexual persons or they would not feel welcomed at our table. Shortly after our policy was instituted, the Presbytery of Cincinnati, on November 10, 1992 by a vote of 162 to 75, found our policy of inclusion to be “irregular.” With this vote, they ruled that the Session had made an erroneous decision. In effect, they were saying that our Inclusiveness Policy was not Christian. We were ordered to prayerfully reconsider our policy and to change it. The Mount Auburn Session did reconsider it and unanimously reaffirmed it, as they have every year since its adoption. Text of the Policy can be read here.
In reaction to our noncompliance, the Cincinnati Presbytery, approved an Administrative Commission “to inquire into and resolve” our alleged delinquency. When the Administrative Commission came to Mount Auburn they found it to be a growing and unified congregation, probably to the surprise of some members of the Commission and a majority of the Presbytery. The Commission finally decided “until the constitutional discrepancies (on this issue) are clearly resolved by the General Assembly, no disciplinary action be taken against the Mount Auburn Session and Pastor.” They added, “To take action at this time would destroy the spirit of a vital congregation that will not be moved from its position.”
Despite the investigation into Mount Auburn’s “irregularity”, the church continued, even more aggressively, to welcome gay and lesbian persons and to ordain them as deacons and elders when elected. Mount Auburn has not only championed the cause of ordination rights for GLBT persons, but has also opposed the denomination’s position regarding same-sex unions. Since the first same-sex covenant union was held at Mount Auburn in 1994, we have continued to perform these ceremonies which, for us, have the same spiritual understanding as marriage. In January 2004, the Session of Mount Auburn adopted MAPC’s “Statement on Covenant Services (Holy Unions, Marriages, Etc.)” – a progressive and inclusive new service model that celebrates the covenant of love between two persons. Full text of this policy can be read here.
After our initial policy of inclusion was adopted, only a few members left as a result of it. Indeed, between 1991 and 1997, the church gained many new members and doubled the number of those attending worship services and church school.
Following the retirement of Dr. Porter, a search again was conducted by the pulpit nominating committee to find a pastor that was imbued with that passion for social justice that had been infused within the congregation by Hal. In 1999, the Pastor Nominating Committee announced its decision that a call to the pastorate be extended to The Rev. Stephen Van Kuiken, who began his term as pastor that same year. Rev. Van Kuiken embraced Mount Auburn’s campaign for full inclusion of GLBT persons not only within the PC(USA), but also within the fabric of society at large. Steve fervently championed the cause, leading Mount Auburn on a crusade that was often high-risk. In 2002, the Presbytery of Cincinnati leveled charges against both Rev. Van Kuiken, and Pastor Emeritus, Hal Porter for "willful and deliberate" violations of ordination vows, by ordaining and installing “unrepentant” gay deacons and elders (on the part of Rev. Van Kuiken), and the performing of same-sex union ceremonies (on the part of both men). The Permanent Judicial Council (PJC) found, in 2003, that both men were not guilty of ordaining gays and lesbians (saying that it recognized that the Book of Order specifically assigns responsibility for the ordination and installation of elders and deacons to the Session), but found Rev. Van Kuiken guilty of violating the denomination's constitution by performing same-sex marriages, for which he received “censure”. The censure imposed on Van Kuiken was the lowest level possible. He was rebuked and instructed to no longer preside at same-sex marriages. "This only leaves me in a state of limbo," said Van Kuiken. "They know I'm going to continue to do it. I just have to be true to myself." True to his word, within months of the censure, Reverend Van Kuiken presided at another same-sex ceremony. In June of 2003, the Presbytery, by a vote of 119 to 45 with 4 abstentions, declared that Van Kuiken had involuntarily renounced jurisdiction of the church. Through this action, the pastoral relationship between Reverend Van Kuiken and the Mount Auburn congregation he served was dissolved. Rev. Van Kuiken’s appeal of the earlier ruling to the Synod of the Covenant’s PJC resulted in the overturning of the Presbytery’s decision for censure. Similarly, Van Kuiken won his appeal of the Presbytery’s ruling that he be removed from ordained office. However, by this time, Reverend Van Kuiken, had moved on, resigning as a minister in the PC(USA) and forming a new congregation, The Gathering, also in Cincinnati, affiliated with the United Church of Christ.
Following the dissolution of Mount Auburn’s relationship with Rev. Van Kuiken, the membership pulled together, dedicated to their solidarity as a faith community, willing to continue its mission of changing hearts and minds in the PC(USA) over the ordination issue, and the rights of all in the GLBT community. In 2005, The Reverend Susan Quinn Bryan received the call from Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church to become the church’s first female pastor. Susan, already a champion for GLBT rights and a long-time advocate for social justice, was a tremendous leader for the people of the Mount Auburn congregation. She worked diligently within the Cincinnati Presbytery by serving on its Nominating Committee, and also worked tirelessly with her colleagues of the Urban Pastors. Rev. Bryan was influential in the recent vote within the Cincinnati Presbytery that changed the wording of the ordination standard for the PC(USA) making way for the ordination of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgendered People called to serve within this denomination.
At every General Assembly she attended during her term as pastor, Rev Bryan spoke passionately to the committees of Church Order & Ministry, Health Issues, Civil Union & Marriage Issues, and many others. Locally, Rev. Bryan led Mount Auburn in its support of the Amos Project, and the Anna Louise Inn. Under Rev. Bryan’s leadership, Mount Auburn Presbyterian met the challenge to raise funds through a capital campaign that allowed for several significant projects to enhance and improve the church facility, including: restoration of the stained glass windows, central air conditioning of the Sanctuary and Social Room, remodeling of the Kitchen, Conference, Social and Geier Rooms, and new landscaping of both the Taft Rd. side of the building, and the rear entry from the parking lot. While Rev. Bryan was Mount Auburn’s pastor, the church embarked on a journey of renewal, discerning God’s twenty-first century call to live into the commands of Christ. Consequently, Mount Auburn adopted its current Guiding Vision, and reorganized its structure to reflect these key areas: Welcoming, Justice Seeking, Progressive Learning, Caring, and Worshipping.
With Rev. Bryan’s retirement in the fall of 2014, a new chapter in the rich history of Mount Auburn begins. As we engage in the process of seeking the next pastor who feels called to serve as Mount Auburn’s spiritual and theological leader, the membership is once again united in their determination to care for those in need, to speak truth to power, and to welcome all who seek an inclusive, caring, and progressive faith community.
Throughout its history, Mount Auburn has sought to continue in the liberal history of the Presbyterian Church – ecumenical and progressive. Many of our present members share their talents with the Presbytery, the Synod, and the General Assembly. Mount Auburn seeks to exercise faithfully the representative form of government of our denomination. Mount Auburn has been one of the leading churches in seeking diversity and inclusion of all persons in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).