The historic Shaw neighborhood of downtown St. Louis has a deep rooted and rich history of religion that has helped develop the identity of those who live in the neighborhood since its early establishment in 1769. Originally known as “Prairie des Noyers” and later renamed after 19th century philanthropist Henry Shaw, the Shaw neighborhood is bound to the west by Tower Grove Avenue and the Shaw Botanical Gardens, the east by Grand Boulevard and Compton Reservoir, the North by Interstate 44, and the south by Magnolia Avenue and Tower Grove Park.
The presence of religion in Shaw dates back to the beginnings of the neighborhood with churches such as St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church and Giddings-Lovejoy Presbyterian Church. The continued importance of religion in the Shaw neighborhood is evident by the continued thriving of the neighborhood’s oldest churches and the incorporation of newer congregations which spread across the neighborhood.
Compton Heights Baptist Church
The Compton Heights area was established in 1888 by Julius Pitzman and was a fix to the mistakes he previously made designing Vandeventer Place. Although the area was well established 16 years prior, the majority of construction didn’t happen until around the time of St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 and many of the homes in the area today still belong to family members of those who originally built them many years ago. Today there are many resources located in this area of St. Louis including schools as well as beautiful churches and an altogether diverse feeling everywhere you go. Also nearby is the water tower which is marked as a landmark in St. Louis similar to the Shaw Botanical Gardens to the West. The Compton Heights Baptist Church was founded in 1915 on the street of Russell Boulevard and is a place of diversity of all different kinds including gender, age, and sexual orientation for example. Due to all these aspects, it’s very unlikely to find another place more conveniently located in St. Louis than the Compton Heights area.
Compton Heights Christian Church
Compton Heights Christian Church was the first of its denomination in the St. Louis area in 1894. The church is a part of the Christian Church congregation of the US and Canada with over 600,000 members. The members of the church have faith in Jesus Christ and are called to “be the Church” through the changing times and needs of the Shaw community, and they have a passion to do God’s work in the community and city. The purpose of the church is to connect God’s love and word with people in the community. Compton Heights also works to be a church that brings together Christians of different races, sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, abilities, and economic standings and learn to love and serve together. Religious influence plays into the Shaw community because the vision of the church is to be an inclusive and accepting community of faith where differences in people unite and enrich the fellowship instead of causing separation and division.
Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Mt. Olive Evangelical Lutheran Church was founded in 1926 and has been a part of the Shaw neighborhood for nearly one hundred years along Shaw Boulevard, where it continues to stand today. Mt. Olive follows a traditional approach to Lutheran denomination Christianity, but adding in an evangelical perspective to worship. Patrons of Mt. Olive experience a unique and diversified religious experience.
Adjacent to the church stands the Mt. Olive Lutheran School which serves families of the Shaw neighborhood in bible classes and child care. Mt. Olive incorporates a variety of special ministry services such as Morning With Mommy and Women4Christ which helps to invigorate participation at the church.
St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church
The St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church was founded in 1832 by pioneer families that secured 80 acres for churches. The parish grew slowly for 20 years, then was later influenced during the nation’s western expansion and the railroad built through St. Louis. Though church development took over 60 years, St. Margaret of Scotland church was officially founded in 1899 under the charge of Rev. James O’Brien, north of the Tower Grove area.
The members of the church are lay Catholic volunteers who work to provide the needs of those in the community, like food, clothing, shelter and emotional support. The mission of the church plays into the Shaw community, encouraging volunteers to look into the faces of people in need and seeing the face of Christ. The society of St. Vincent de Paul at St. Margaret of Scotland Church focuses on helping people of all ages, from children to adults.
The St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic School was built and has been developing since 1918 in southern St. Louis and in the heart of the Shaw. The school is closely associated with the St. Margaret church, but also includes 20-30% non-Catholic students. Religious beliefs are emphasized throughout the school community, emphasizing the school’s foundational beliefs that faith is foundational and all are welcome. They use the phrase “We are St. Margaret” to say that their school is a catalyst of service for community and faith in the neighborhood and also that students become more like St. Margaret whose work continuously inspires the community.
St. Margaret, whose service and life inspires the Shaw community, was the Queen of Scotland from 1057 to 1093. She is known as “the pearl of Scotland” because of her kind personality, pure heart, her deep religious faith, how she fed the hungry, and her constant work to aid the poor.
Shaw Methodist Church
This congregation has gone through many transformations since it was first founded in 1898. The current building was constructed in 1952 and now houses the Word at Shaw, "a life giving, multicultural church that exists to reach all people." After more than a century of serving predominately white Methodists, the Word at Shaw was built in the Shaw neighborhood to bring in a diverse and active group of individuals who can join in and help those who are near the community. When building this church, the founders were most focused on gathering people from different background and ethnicities. This particular church strives to make everyone feel welcomed and feel like they belong. The Word at Shaw has many beliefs, but right now we are just going to identify a few. First, they believe in one God who primarily exists in three persons including God the Father, God the Son, and finally God the Holy Spirit. Another belief is that God is revealed in both the New and Old Testament. Their main mission is to bring the community closer to Jesus.
South City Church
The South City Church was founded in 2012. The church is known for being “an uncommon family,” uniting many different people within the city and the community with the word of the gospel. The beliefs of the church is that everyone desires to be the best person they can be, and the church is meant to help along the journey toward growth and maturity through training in Bible study and practical theological study. The church brings religious influence into community bringing the good news of the Gospel to the people. Educational tutoring, youth Bible studies, and cross-cultural training is offered at the church and the church provides a support system for the abused with counseling and pastoral care. And groups for the youth and adults are created for opportunities for relationships between the church and personal lives.
Tower Grove Baptist Church
The Tower Grove area is number one when it comes to being the most multi-faith ministry in the St. Louis area and includes congregations of Vietnamese as well as Swahili and more. Along with that, The Tower Grove Baptist Church is also one of the most culturally and racially diverse churches in the region. This may be because the Church, as well as the community, not only accepts diversity but also welcomes and celebrates the differences between one another. The community as well as the church also have opportunities for each member of all families to take part in no matter their age, things such as youth ministry for kids of all ages including preschoolers. The Tower Grove area as well as The Tower Grove Baptist Church is a perfect place to go if you are looking for diversity of any kind as well as a way for your whole family to be able to play apart in their own faith, such as with campus ministry. This community strives to find a place for everyone, no matter their backgrounds, in order for them to serve and to be served.
B’Nai El Jewish Synagogue
On the southeast corner of Flad and Spring stands an ornate and aged building with era defining architecture. To most who travel by, this building holds no special meaning or secrets aside from its outstanding exterior decorations, but to the trained eye, the star of david etched into the stainglass of the upper window refers to a hidden, and almost lost Jewish origins.
The B’Nai El is a Jewish congregation in St. Louis that was founded in 1852 following a merger of St. Louis’ two oldest Jewish communities, the Emanu-El and B’Nai B’rith. The B’Nai El congregation established the first Synagogue in St. Louis in 1855 three years after their formation, on the corner of Sixth and Cerre downtown. Due to increased growth, the B’Nai congregation would relocate to the Shaw synagogue site in 1906 and would continue to use the building as their house of worship until 1930. Again, the B’Nai El congregation relocated, this time to a Midtown based Synagogue on Delmar and Clara, and later to their ultimate synagogue in Mid-County St. Louis. Today, the former B’Nai El synagogue in the Shaw neighborhood has been repurposed as an apartment complex becoming a literal bridge between religion and community in the Shaw neighborhood.
The Shaw neighborhood in the city of St. Louis has a deeply rooted and rich history of religion that has helped develop the identity of those who live in the neighborhood. When seeking to summarize the impact of the various religious sites observed on the residents of Shaw, there stands no better example than a fence sign stating, “I am a proud St. Margaret Parent”, which was seen during our exploration of the neighborhood. Residents of Shaw are devoted to their faith and proud of it. Religion’s continued importance in the Shaw neighborhood is evident by the continued thriving of the neighborhood’s oldest churches and the incorporation of newer congregations which spread across the neighborhood. Our evidence supports our thesis by how much each of these churches have grown and spread throughout the community. These places of worship have brought the community together and shaped the St. Louis area. These churches seem to draw connections and link together as well.
Researched and written by Corey Crecelius, Briana Kapka, Julia Norris, and Katie Seidenglanz.
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