When the Territory of Minnesota was organized in 1849, a young missionary from Philadelphia—the Reverend Edward Duffield Neill—set out to form the first Presbyterian congregations. Rev. Neill founded First Church in downtown St. Paul in 1849. He started a second congregation on Christmas Eve, 1855, and named it House of Hope. The name was selected “desiring that it might be the place of refuge for weary and heavy-laden souls.”
The two churches merged, under the direction of Dr. Henry Swearingen in 1914, who oversaw the construction of the existing church at 797 Summit Avenue for the new congregation. The church building, a Gothic structure designed by Ralph Adams Cram, is rich in symbolism. The church’s architecture, stained glass windows, carvings and adornments create an inspired setting for worship and reflection.
Dr. Swearingen represented a high mark in personality and leadership, serving as moderator of the national church while ministering here. Other leaders in church history include Irving Adams West, who served the congregation from 1943–1969 and expanded the church to include an education wing and other facilities. Calvin Whitefield Didier succeeded West and served until 1993. He guided various outreach and missionary activities around the world that were sponsored by House of Hope.
In celebration of 150 years, the church established the Houses of Hope Fund in 2000 with a goal of raising $4.5 million to help meet affordable housing needs in St. Paul. In addition, the church commissioned Daryl Smith of Seattle, WA, to create “The Spirit of Hope,” a stunning bronze sculpture mounted on a plinth of Rockville White granite.
A comprehensive history of the church, A Journey of Hope by David Johnson, is available through the church office for $10. The book traces the history of the two churches founded by Edward Duffield Neill and the successors at Summit and Avon. Since 1914, House of Hope has been among the most well-known and influential congregations in American Presbyterianism.