Our church roots are the most established in the Pierre area; First Congregational Church’s legacy begins in the mission work of Stephen Return Riggs in 1840, carried on by his son, Thomas, in 1872. They began forming relationships with the Lakota that lived on the land, and shared with them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Unlike many missionaries of the time, they didn’t believe that the Indian way of life should be exterminated. They believed with passion that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was meant to be shared with all people everywhere, in their own languages. This led Riggs and others to form the first Lakota Bible, Lakota dictionary, and Lakota hymnal. By learning Lakota and teaching English, the Riggs family planted churches up and down the river, all led by Lakota lay ministers. Today, that tradition still carries on in the life of the Dakota Association – 13 churches on four reservations who are led by Lakota pastors serving their local communities.
Our local congregation took root here in 1880, a few years before South Dakota became a state! The first services were held with a membership of nine people and a minister, Rev. William B. Williams. On November 28, 1880, they organized the first church in Pierre in a railroad construction shack on Coteau Street. Rev. Williams came to Fort Pierre by steamboat and served the Home Missionary Society and preached on ‘both sides of the river.’ Two months later, he brought his wife to Pierre and lived in a tent in what is now Griffin Park. The church would later move from the railroad shack to a tent at Dakota and Fort Street, because the tent was warmer. Moving from one location to another, Eugene Steere writes, “my wife and I would go out on Sunday morning and find we had been ousted from the previous place and have to carry the organ and books to some new-found place.” All in all, the church worshiped in fourteen places before building its first permanent home. With financial help from the East, the small congregation built its first church at the corner of Capitol Avenue and Pierre Street. The church was dedicated September 3, 1882, with the Rev. Thomas Riggs of the Oahe Mission preaching the first sermon. The church building served the congregation until 1932, when a new building was constructed at Highland and Prospect for a cost of $23,200. During the church’s history it has had 29 ministers, including its present pastor, The Rev. Emily Munger.
On the wide open and sprawling prairie, our Congregationalist forefathers and mothers played an integral part in the development of Pierre and surrounding areas. They were involved in government, as educators, doctors, surveyors, ranchers and farmers, tradesmen and women, parents and members of voluntary associations that provided for the interests and needs of the communities.