A Short History of Presbyterian Church of the Master
Our congregation has a rich heritage in the Omaha area and is actually the combination of two long-time churches in the community. We trace our roots back to to the early twentieth century with the formation of Benson Presbyterian Church in 1906. Located in the small town of Benson which was adjacent to Omaha,
The namesake, Presbyterian Church of the Master (PCM), was organized in 1964 and has operated at the current location since 1967 when the original wing of our facility was completed.
The Presbytery of Omaha chartered Presbyterian Church of the Master (known casually as PCM) on January 3, 1965. The Organizing Pastor, Robert J. Ware had been working since the previous summer gathering the 160 adults and their children who formed the seed of a new congregation on what was then the edge of Omaha, 108th and Maple.
Construction began on land purchased by the Synod of Nebraska, and the congregation worshiped for the first time in September 1967 in what would become their permanent home. Then, it was a lonely, red brick building on a hill, surrounded by cornfields. There were no sidewalks or air-conditioning, and the building was fueled by propane. Dependent on well water, the church was often without any water at all.
PCM received a much-needed landfall of people and money two years later when Trinity Presbyterian Church at 83rd and Maple closed its doors and many of its members transferred to PCM, along with a partial share of the money from the sale of the church property.
In addition, a new chapter of PCM’s history began at this time, when J. Keith Cook replaced Bob Ware as pastor. He would remain as pastor here until 1989. Following him as Head of Staff were Gary Bullard (1992-1999), John Hansen (1999-2010), and Robert Keefer (2013-present).
Under Keith’s leadership, PCM grew in membership, budget, staff, and square footage. In the early years, as northwest Omaha developed rapidly, PCM grew along with the city. There were often many, many more children on the rolls than adults. From the beginning, the staff included a secretary, music director, and organist. Later additional pastors, as well as program and support staff joined the team – first, a Director of Christian Education and then Associate Pastors and clerical staff, as needed.
With the growing size of the congregation, the building grew, as well. A fire, started by an arsonist in 1978, set plans back for a while, but by 1979, the congregation began worship in a new space, freeing up the old sanctuary to be used for Sunday School space and as needed, a Fellowship Hall. A courtyard and bell tower were added in 1982, and in 1986, the building reached its present size with the addition of the music, office, and education wings.
Now, in its new remodeled space, PCM continues to offer the varied and progressive programming it has consistently championed. Music was always important, with a choir helping to lead worship when the congregation was still meeting at Laura Dodge School in its earliest years. Hand Bells were added in 1975 and an orchestra in 1979. The Puppet Ministry, which began in 2009, also often participates in worship.
The formation of Fellowship groups started early on, as well, and over PCM’s long history, groups have formed and re-formed as the interests and the age of the congregation changed. The Presbyterian Woman’s Association has been meeting in its various forms since 1971. Sports groups, card groups, dining-out groups, craft groups have all been active over the years. Each one tried to offer not only fellowship and fun to its members, but there was most always a mission component, as well.
For mission has always been important at PCM. A Mission Witness has been part of worship since 1971. Personal involvement in mission was an early goal with mission trips by individuals or groups to Zambia, the Mexican border, New Orleans, reservations in South Dakota, and other places in need. PCM has been active in helping the Children’s Respite Care facility, the Samaritan Counseling Center, the Heifer Project, a refugee resettlement project, Paint-a-thon, Habitat for Humanity, Rainbow House, Siena Francis House, and our community garden supporting local hunger relief.
From its earliest days, PCM has been a pioneer in progressive ministries and techniques. We were the first Presbyterian church in the area to call a female pastor. A Peacemaking Task Force formed in 1980 and explored ways PCM could foster peace, both locally and globally. A Justice Task Force in 1995 pursued programs and projects to make our world a more equitable place. We bought our first computer in 1983 and became a No Smoking facility in 1987. In 2001, PCM joined the Covenant Network that supported inclusion of all persons in ministry, and we continue to support LGBTQIA+ people and their concerns.
A new era began in 2015, when the congregation of Benson Presbyterian began to worship with the congregation at PCM and soon after, both voted to merge. Benson brings a long, rich history to the PCM community. Benson opened its doors in 1906 and was known over the years for its strong education and music ministries, especially using hand bells and by their marvelous pipe organ.
Benson also had a long history of community service. They were a major center of support to the community following the tornado in 1975, partnered with Rose Hill School across the street with programs for children, and continue here at PCM to support refugees in the Benson area through BART (Benson Area Refugee Taskforce).