Church History

Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ is part of one of the oldest Protestant denominations in our country. It traces its history back to the Lutheran and the Reformed Churches of sixteenth Century Continental Europe, to the Congregational Church of Seventeenth Century England, and hence, to the Pilgrims who came to America on the Mayflower.

As Congregationalism was being grounded deeply into the roots of America, strong institutions of learning were also being established. Such institutions of higher learning as Harvard, Yale, Oberlin, Fisk, Howard, Atlanta University, Talledega College, and many others were founded by the Congregational church all across America.

The Pilgrim Congregational Church of Houston began in 1900, not as a formal church, but as a fellowship of people dedicated to helping children and their parents live a better life. Bible classes, games, parties and instructions to parents regarding simple and moral living followed. The program grew so rapidly that the idea of forming a church was a natural development.

The Reverend George Bernard McClelland Turner came to Houston with his wife, Mollie. Having earned an B.A. Degree from Fisk University and a degree in Theology, he had already served as pastor of a Congregational church in Paris, Texas around 1898-1899. He co-founded Pilgrim Church with Mr. E.O. Smith and became a distinguished educator. G.B.M. Turner Elementary School is named for Reverend Turner.

In 1904, the Pilgrim Congregational Church was organized in Rev. Turner’s home. The charter members were:

   • The Reverend G.B.M. Turner • Mrs. Lizzie Prevost   
   • Mrs. Mollie Turner • Miss Lily Moore   
   • Mr. E.O. Smith • Mrs. C.A. Scott   

Mr. Ernest Ollington Smith earned a B.A. Degree from Fisk University. He married Nina Erwin in 1906. In 1911, he became the principal of Houston’s first night school for Blacks. Mr. Smith was named the first principal of Phyllis Wheatley High School in 1927. Because of the school’s growth, his leadership and programs, he earned the reputation for being the most progressive educator in Texas. He led and/or co-founded many organizations which are still vital to this community. E.O. Smith Elementary School is named in honor of Mr. Smith.

Over the years, properties were purchased for the establishment of a permanent church, and many great men of God served as leaders of Pilgrim Congregational Church. A complete documentation of their accomplishments and contributions can be acquired from any member of the Pilgrim Archive Committee, Mrs. Yvette Scales, Chairperson.


Chronological Highlights

Contributions of Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ to the Houston community

  • 1920’s - Sunday School was one of the largest in town
    • The first recreational facility for Negroes were set up in our churchyard
    • The city furnished swings, seesaws and games for the use of the children
    • Church members served as supervisors
  • 1930’s - Good Samaritan Club was established for children and youth – Pilgrim was and is known as a mecca for children
    • Children were taught parliamentary procedures, good citizenship
    • Bible stories were read to the children
    • Participated in hikes, picnics, hayrides and annual Easter Egg Hunts
    • 1936 - The Fourth Ward church was destroyed by fire
  • 1940’s - Reverend John D. Moore, the new minister, moved the church to the Live Oak property in Third Ward where the largest percentage of the membership lived
  • 1950’s - The Congregational denomination went through several mergers
    • In early 1950, the name became Congregational Christian Church
    • In 1957, in a union with the Evangelical and Reformed Church, we became The United Church of Christ
    • The church was very active in the establishment of the local YMCA and YWCA
    • Church members wrote the charter for local Longshoremen
    • First night school for adults started by church members
    • Assisted Postal Service in acquiring first Black postal clerks
    • Assisted Black teachers in fighting for equal salaries
    • Hattie Mae White, Pilgrim member, first Black member of the HISD Board in 1958
    • Established first and most successful Boy Scout and Girl Scout programs for Blacks in Houston
    • Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ known for its exciting and fun-filled Vacation Bible School every summer
  • 1960’s - The Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ Federal Credit union was        established – assets currently accounted at $2million+
  • 1970’s - On Easter Sunday, March, 1970, members met at the Live Oak church at 6:50 a.m. to drive to the present property @ 3115 Blodgett Street for our first service in the new church
    • In 1978, Pilgrim Day Care Center was established
  • 1990’s - Pilgrim Pioneers Unlimited organized in 1998 for senior members to participate in activities such as worship, fellowship, education and exciting trips around the state
    • Archival Committee established in 1999 to collect, describe and preserve the history of our church for display and storage
  • 2000’s - The Pilgrim Multi-Purpose Community Center was opened in 2001
    • Pilgrim Place I was built to house the aging and handicapped. It was followed by Pilgrim Place II and III
    • Food Pantry, currently Manna House, established to feed the hungry
    • Pilgrim Youth Department established and hired a Youth Minister to continue our legacy of ministering to the youth of this community

Please see our List of Ministries page for programs currently offered by Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ @ 3115 Blodgett Street, Houston, TX 77004.

Our history continues...


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