Union has had 26 pastors, with Rev. Dr. Antonio Settles serving as the current senior pastor. The church has a legacy of community engagement, social justice and political involvement. In April 1913, Union hosted Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, who spoke about problems that confronted the Black race. Problems that are still pervasive, such as inequities in jobs, education and health care. Union Memorial continues to fight for justice in these areas.
Union faced a challenge in 1968 when the Evangelical United Brethren merged with the Methodist Episcopal Church. Some parishioners were for it, but others were not. But because of the merger, Union Memorial became the oldest African American UMC in Missouri.
Union has partnered with Better Family Life, a community organization that focuses on building healthy families, as well as the Bayer YMCA and Pierre Elementary School. The church will begin a partnership with Lincoln University to provide education on vaccine hesitancy of all kinds as well as provide vaccination clinics for the community. The church has been a catalyst to public service, a voice that speaks social justice and truth to power by working with alderpersons, mayors and community organizations over the years. The fact that DuBois was invited to speak at Union shows her commitment to activism and justice. Union Memorial has always been active in the community, organizing voter drives and partnering with the NAACP on community issues. Union Memorial has always put the welfare of people at the forefront, so she has been a sanctuary for the oppressed. Previous pastors have had leadership positions in the NAACP, and some have been vocal in public during the Civil Rights movement, speaking on issues of inequity.
Today, Union continues to be active in the NAACP as well as Black Methodists for Church Renewal. The church continues to be a sanctuary for the oppressed. In the political arena, Union is actively engaged with local city officials as well as the mayor’s office. As a church body, we continue to teach the next generation about our duty to serve others and improve our community.
Pre-COVID, Union served a free, weekly hot breakfast for the community on Sundays. Also, for many years, Union operated a food co-op, the Garden of Eden, in which the church partnered with a government agency to provide fresh produce for the community in the midst of a food desert. Looking ahead to 2022, Union hopes to resume providing resources firsthand to the surrounding residents.
As Union Memorial celebrates 175 years, its members are proud of her long legacy of faith, handed down from generation to generation. It is not unusual to have three generations still connected to the church. Hope lies in the story of a people who have been resilient in spite of segregation, racism and oppression. The people have a strong faith that keeps the church alive in the community.
Union Memorial is in the process of honoring her legacy while creating a new story. The church intends to do that through its mission of transforming lives and making disciples of Jesus Christ and its vision of connecting people to God through compelling worship, compassionate outreach and genuine faith development. In the past year Union has received 27 new persons into membership … and counting!
- Rev. Dr. Antonio Settles and Rev. Dr. John Heyward, Jr. spoke about the church’s history on the forthcoming third season of the Faith and Race Podcast, produced by the Missouri Conference.
- The church is in partnership with the Pierre Laclede Elementary School in St. Louis. Dr. Roslyn Kelley-Sykes and other members of the church lead this initiative.
- Union Memorial and Salem in Ladue UMC have partnered in leading Wednesday evening Bible Study sessions via Zoom.
- Chester Deanes, President of Fathers United to Raise Awareness, has weekly orientation meetings with fathers and other interested men in the community. This organization is well-known in metropolitan St. Louis.
- Alderwoman Shameem Hubbard of the St. Louis Board Aldermen convenes monthly meetings at Union Memorial with her 26th Ward constituents and church members.
- In November 2021, 68 Union seniors, ages 80 through 102, were honored as part of the church’s 175th anniversary celebration.
- In January 2021, the church began following the simplified structure model in carrying out its vision and mission. To that end, a leadership team was developed to lead that effort.