Tim Hart-Andersen: Westminster was established in August of 1857, when Minneapolis was a small village not yet incorporated. Eight Presbyterians from Scotland and Wales created a community of faith that would carry on traditions they brought to this new place.
They probably carried with them the trinitarian hymn Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, that we sang at the start of this service on Trinity Sunday. The hymn was written in Britain a few decades prior to the launching of Westminster. This congregation has been singing that hymn for 165 years, including this morning – affirming the ancient creed of the church that our one God is known as a “blessed Trinity.”
On that firm foundation Westminster was built by those early members. God has been at work among us ever since, as we have pursued the love and justice of Jesus Christ, no matter the challenges we have faced. Jesus offers the image of a house built on a rock as having a foundation that can withstand the storms that come over time – and Westminster has seen turbulence and turmoil over the years, some of it internal, but mostly external, in the world around us.
The land upon which the church was built carried the wounds of history. Indigenous peoples had long lived here, where Minneapolis was founded, but the Dakota and other native people were pushed off the land and waters by settlers from Europe. Five years after the start of Westminster, the Dakota War broke out, as the original inhabitants of this land sought fair treatment and treaty rights that had been violated.
The year of Westminster’s founding, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the Dred Scott case, involving an enslaved man who brought north to Fort Snelling. The Court ruled he was still enslaved, even in a free territory. Only four years later the Civil War broke out.
Westminster was born in those troubled times.
Our congregation has always found itself in the midst of the realities of the world around it. In the 1880s, we welcomed Chinese fleeing violence against them in the west. The economic collapse of the 1890s brought hardship to the church and its members. The violence of the teamsters’ strike of 1934 happened just down the street from Westminster. We had members who fought and died in the wars of the 20th century. Our congregation struggled over what role to play in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. And more recently, Westminster found itself in the middle of an urban uprising over racialized violence by some on the police force.
Throughout all the turmoil and the strife – and in the good times, as well – Westminster has stood firm because of the foundation of faith upon which it is built. The Heritage members we celebrate today have helped steady this church through the decades – some for more than 70 years. One of them is Dave Moore, and I am pleased to join him in a conversation today.
Thank you, Dave, for being with us, and for your long leadership in our church. You joined Westminster in the confirmation class of 1948 as a 12-year-old boy, having been baptized by Dr. Boddy in 1936, 86 years ago. You’ve been part of this congregation for more than half of its 165 years. Your grandparents began helping build Westminster’s solid foundation soon after the Civil War. How did your family come to this church?
Dave Moore: My mother was born in 1894 to a Westminster family. She was here in church one Sunday when President Taft walked in. My maternal Grandfather, Daniel Prior Deane, was part of Westminster in the 1870’s or 1880’s. My maternal grandmother was born in New York. She was nine years old when Lincoln died and remembered and told me about going to church on Black Easter, with her church in New York all draped in black. She came West on the Erie Canal and came to Minneapolis as an elementary school teacher.
My dad, son of a Presbyterian minister, came to Minneapolis in the early 1920’s to seek his fortune here. He became legal counsel of Farmers and Mechanics Bank. He was serving as Clerk of Session when Dr. Lowe came in 1941.
I grew up at Westminster, attending Sunday School each week. I remember Virginia Boehme who taught first grade. She was legendary, an institution. Mr. Otto taught fourth grade, and one day I showed up for his Sunday School class without my materials. “David,” he said, “Suppose you were a bricklayer, and you showed up to work without your bricks. What would you do?”
I thought, “Do bricklayers bring their own bricks to work?” I knew they didn’t, but I got his point.
I remember Dean McNeil, a Vice President at Pillsbury. He taught the junior high class for 17 years. He was an excellent role model for all of us. My faith was built in those Sunday School years. The Bible stories, the prophets, the ministry of Jesus – all those laid the foundation of my faith.
THA: It’s hard to build a firm foundation without the bricks!
When I started at Westminster 23 years ago, at public events where I was introduced often an older gentleman would tell me about their wonderful years as a boy at Camp Ajawah or in Westminster’s Scout Troop 33, which was chartered in 1918 and is the oldest continuous Scout Troop in Minnesota. You have many memories of scouting at Westminster.
DM: I joined Cub Pack 33 in 1945, in between the surrender of the Germans and the Japanese. Troop 33 in 1945, just as the war was ending. That was my first summer at Westminster’s Camp Ajawah, at age 9. I have been at Camp Ajawah every summer since then, except for two years in the 1950s when I worked for the Park Board while home from my studies at Yale. IN those days you could earn your school costs and, with scholarship help, not go into debt. I followed my brother Carl to Yale, where I received a BA in history and an MA in education, which prepared me for a career in Minneapolis schools – and also gave me summers off to be at Ajawah.
The Camp started in 1923 on Lake Sarah and moved in 1929 to its current location on Linwood Lake near Forest Lake, MN, 40 minutes north of Minneapolis. World War II had a big impact on Ajawah. The young leaders all went off to be soldiers and fifteen-year-olds were left to run the camp, including my older brother, Stan. When the soldiers came home, they took over and proceeded to run Ajawah like a military boot camp. That worked fine for a while, but my older brother Stan Moore and I dreamed how we would run the camp differently if we ever got a chance to run the camp.
Well, we got our chance in 1957, when Stan became Camp Director and I was his Assistant. We changed the camp and made it more responsive to a boy’s and girl’s needs and interests. I took over the camp from Stan in 1960 and Troop 33 from Kyle Cudworth in 1965, whose huge shoes I tried to fill. Remember Kyle? He also was a legend. We maintained our role as the premier Troop of the Viking Council.
Incidentally, we used to sing Holy, Holy Holy, Lord God Almighty at Ajawah and the kids belted it out. Thank you for belting it out this morning, as well.
We welcomed girls to Camp Ajawah in the 1940s, and more recently to Scouting. We protested when the national Scout organization banned gay leaders. We made a formal protest. To this day, Troop 33 has far more Eagle Scouts than any other Troop in the Minneapolis-St Paul area. Their names are on the board downstairs. I was Eagle number 145 in 1953.
THA: You became Director of Camp Ajawah in 1960 and continue to be active as Director at the camp today. I believe that’s 62 years leading the camp. You took over Troop 33 as Scoutmaster in 1965, and started the nation’s first Hmong Scout Troop, Troop 100, in the 1980s. You were teaching at the time. Can you tell us how Troop 100 got started?
DM: On a cold Monday in January 1983, about a hundred Hmong kids arrived at Edison High School where I was teaching. They had their own teachers, and I didn’t get a chance to meet them, but I encountered them in the halls. They looked frightened, lost, completely out of place in an American high school. My heart went out to them. Clearly, they needed an American friend. I thought I could be that friend.
Pretty soon I was holding Scout meetings during the school day, boys and girls together in a gym, playing games and doing Scout stuff. They loved it. They were having fun for the first time in America. But they saw that I, too, needed a friend. So, they reached out to me and took me in to their community. They held a Hu Pli for me, a blessing ceremony where you are formally welcomed into the Hmong community.
There was some thought about bringing the Hmong kids into Troop 33, but they were on different tracks. The Hmong kids didn’t know much English, so we went slowly. Eventually Troop 100 was chartered by Westminster. It’s very rare for one church to charter and host two Scout troops. In fact, I don’t know of any other church that sponsors two troops, but when I asked Dr. Meisel if we could have another troop at Westminster and if the church would welcome Hmong scouts, he said, “Yes., of course.” We began meeting here on Friday nights and still do today. Scouts on the rolls number 80-100, including many girls, which is true of Troop 33, as well. The girls do very well. They’re very competitive with the boys.
We have taken a hit during Covid in terms of attendance. We can’t use the bus to collect the scouts because of Covid, so our numbers are down, but things are picking up again.
We chose Friday for our meetings because so many of the Hmong kids needed the weekend to catch up on their studies and continue to learn English. They are very ambitious scholars. They want a good education, so Friday was a good fit to give them the rest of the weekend to study.
The scouts of Troop 100 really took to Ajawah, and are very active, serving as counselors and leaders. Today, we have many children of those first Hmong scouts in Troop 100 and at Ajawah. Many Hmong community leaders in business, non-profits, public service, elected office, or in other professions in the Twin Cities today have a connection to Westminster’s Troop 100. We have produced a doctor, a dentist, a lawyer, and many educators.
THA: All of this good work with boys and now girls in Scouting is designed to build a firm foundation in these young lives. You have been an important part of building that foundation – really expanding on the foundation in faith that you received here at Westminster, beginning back in the 1940s and 1950s and over the years. How has the congregation stayed the same over the years, and how has it changed?
DM: I have seen a lot of changes during my life at Westminster. But the changes are changes of form, not substance. The form changes, but the substance remains the same. The form being the music, the dress, the building itself, the issues we agonize about. And the substance being the fact that we are a community, a family. We care about each other. We love each other. And beyond that we care about the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the immigrant. That’s the substance that does not change. We are all God’s children. We know that and we act on it.
THA: And some of the music stays the same, as well. Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, the great Trinitarian hymn, still conveys today the core of the faith sung by generations of Westminster members since our church was founded 165 years ago.
Dave, thank you for what you’ve done here at Westminster, and for sharing memories and wisdom with us today. You are living testimony to the strong foundation this church has built over the years, and continues to build today – built on the rock that not will move.
Thanks be to God.