HELENA — If there was ever a church with an open-door policy, it would have to be Helena's Plymouth Congregational. For 60 years, they have been advancing social justice efforts and welcoming people of all backgrounds.
Even before breaking ground in 1963, Plymouth Congregational Church has been known as a welcoming place.
“It's always been a very social justice minded congregation,” said Reverend Charles Wei who has led the congregation since moving to Montana from California in October of 2021. He says over the years the church has earned a reputation for not being afraid to take a stand on those social issues.
“As I’ve gotten to know the neighbors it's become very apparent to me that a lot of people in Helena look to Plymouth to see what we’re doing and where we stand on things,” said Wei.
Congregationalism in Helena dates to 1883.
“The denomination was formed by four different denominations that came together,” said Wei. “So, often when you look at church history, denominations formed because churches split.”
A small congregation made way for a second, but the numbers would dwindle due to various hardships.
In 1931, members voted to dissolve. In 1960, however, a group realized Helena was the only state capital without a congregational church.
In January of 1961, with membership having grown to 76, they held their first service in the Van Orsdel Chapel at Intermountain College under the Plymouth Congregational name as a member of the United Church of Christ.
“I mean, just the very idea of the United Church of Christ is about people coming together and sharing ideas and loving each other and taking care of each other, even though they don't all agree exactly on the same thing,” said Wei.
It’s a message Wei says could go a long way in today’s times. “There's so much strife, especially in this country, with our political parties just fighting all the time,” said Wei. “You know, we need to figure out ways to work together because there's bigger problems.”
Construction on the current location on Oakes Street began in May of 1963 with additions completed over the years.
From climate change to LGBTQ rights, their social justice flag has flown for many causes including a United Way initiated effort called “Move the Dial.”
“It's bringing together nonprofit churches and government organizations to address the homelessness issue and see if we can put a stop to homelessness,” said Wei.
Pastor Charles cannot get over how welcoming people have been to him in his brief time in Helena.
He says it was first evident after his August 2021 arrival was delayed when he sustained a significant injury. The health issue sent him to the hospital for three weeks. He was then put on antibiotics for another six weeks. Knowing he had just taken the job and concerned how his new congregation might react, he was surprised at their response.
“They sent me get well cards when I was well enough to watch the videos online,” said Wei. “They would look at the camera and say, ‘Hi, Charles, we're praying for you.’ So, in a weird way, it created this almost instant bond between me and the congregation.”
For the future, he wants to see the congregation become a community leader in creation care.
As for the present, they’ll celebrate their 60th Anniversary Sunday with their regularly scheduled worship service at 10:00, where they’ll welcome new members.
“It's actually going to be a joining service,” said Wei. “We're going to have about 12 to 15 people become members on Sunday, including me.”
At 4:00 p.m., they will have music and a history presentation featuring some longtime church members.
That is followed at 5:00 p.m. by one of the church’s well-known spaghetti dinners and live and silent auctions, all the while living by the principles that got the church to 60 years.
“We have to be the hands and feet of God in the world. That's our role,” said Wei.