Zion United Evangelical Church
Salem began as the Zion United Evangelical Church in October 1879 when the Rev. J. E. Stauffacher, who was sent by the Evangelical conference as a missionary to West Cedar Rapids, organized fourteen charter members. He held worship services first in the old United Presbyterian Church on Second Street SW, north of Third Avenue, and later in a small schoolhouse on Ellis Boulevard NW. A frame church was built at the corner of First Avenue and Third Street SW in 1881. It was replaced with a brick structure built in 1904-1905.
First Evangelical Church
In October 1927 Zion merged with Immanuel Evangelical. The merged congregation took the name First Evangelical Church and continued to worship at the corner of First Avenue and Third Street SW. (Olivet Presbyterian bought the brick building in which the former Immanuel congregation had worshiped.) In 1930 several additions were made to the 1904 building: a gymnasium, furnace, kitchen, dining, and social rooms.
Salem Evangelical United Brethren Church
A national merger in 1946 of the Evangelical Church and the Church of the United Brethren in Christ led to another new name for the congregation – the Salem Evangelical United Brethren Church. At that time, Cedar Rapids also had a First Church of the United Brethren in Christ – later called St. Andrews – so First Evangelical took the name Salem to avoid confusion.
When St. Andrews closed in May 1961, some of its members joined the Salem church. Salem received pews that were later placed in the chapel. In this way, Salem retains a small link with the Wright brothers as their father was an early pastor of that congregation.
In 1961 an addition was built on the building, including education and office space and a full kitchen.
Salem United Methodist Church
A final name change occurred in 1968 when the Evangelical United Brethren denomination merged with the Methodist Church to form the United Methodist Church. The Salem United Methodist Church not only had a new name but, because of the merger, another United Methodist congregation within five blocks. Trinity UMC is located on Third Avenue SW.
The construction of Interstate 380 in 1974 dissected the neighborhood and removed many of the homes and businesses surrounding the church building. The construction of the new highway literally took away Salem’s neighborhood. Also, there were concerns that the church building might deteriorate because of the vibrations from the road. Sometime later several acres of land were purchased on F Avenue NW as an option for a new location.
In 1979 Salem experienced a painful schism. The division resulted in the pastor and several members leaving to start a non-denominational church near newer housing developments on the northwest side of Cedar Rapids.
In 1988 another division in the congregation occurred. After a ministry assessment was made, the majority voted to sell the land that had been purchased on F Avenue NW. Again, more households left Salem to become part of other congregations. With the decision to stay, three buildings were purchased along Second Street SW.
About this time Salem’s Rev. Gale Hawhee, pastors from two nearby Presbyterian churches, and a small group of people from each of their congregations brought the Walk to Emmaus movement to Cedar Rapids. Salem hosted 133 Walk to Emmaus weekend retreats along with dozens of Chrysalis Flights for youth within its building.
In 2004 the Crosswinds United Methodist Church, a new church start, joined with Salem. Salem received many of the Crosswinds members as well as 9.6 acres of land on Blairs Ferry Road NW.
The Flood of 2008 was the worst disaster in Iowa’s history and one of the five worst in our nation’s history. Along with the terrible destruction throughout the city, many of our own members lost homes and business. Likewise, it devastated Salem’s facilities. Salem’s buildings, gathering space, furnishings, equipment, and base of operations were destroyed. The church office was also destroyed, including all the data, information, and history. Two-and-a-half weeks after the flood the staff changed radically with a new pastor and no associate pastor, discipleship director, or contemporary music director. The chaos interrupted many of the ongoing congregational ministries and displaced the Walk to Emmaus community after 133 walks at the Salem site.
After the flood Salem received gracious hospitality from Lovely Lane United Methodist Church, Echo Hill Presbyterian Church, and Kenwood Park United Methodist Church. These congregations shared their space so Salem could continue to gather for worship.
In 2009 Salem voted to accept the voluntary buyout from the city and not return downtown. After considering many options, Salem determined there were two potential places for its new location: the southwest side of Cedar Rapids (the area where New Creation UMC was located) and the land already owned on Blairs Ferry Road on the northwest side.
Just before Easter 2010 New Creation UMC offered their 8.3 acres and phase one building to Salem for the cost of their remaining mortgage. They had decided to close after eighteen years and in the face of death they chose resurrection for New Creation and for Salem. Two months later, Salem voted to accept the gracious offer from New Creation.
Salem then experienced a fresh start in it's new location with an intentional focus on rebuilding the ministry teams that lead prayer, outreach, discipleship, ministry and mission.
On May 18, 2014 Salem broke ground on a new facility at it's present location, adding 18,000 sq. ft., including a new sanctuary, entrance, offices, nursery, classrooms, and youth room. Existing space was remodeled into a Fellowship Hall, parlor, and kitchen. The Grand Opening was celebrated on Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015. Bishop Julius Trimble consecrecated the new facility on May 17, 2015.
Salem continues to live out its name. “Salem” comes from the Hebrew word shalom. This is usually translated as peace. God’s peace, however, is not just the absence of conflict but the wholeness of life. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 NRSV). Shalom means completeness, wholeness, health, peace, joy, love, friendship, well-being, justice, and salvation. Salem/Shalom is God’s will for the world, for the renewal of creation.
(Click here to read an article from Duke Divinity's Faith and Leadership online magazine about Salem's experience with the flood.)