by Jeff Jacobsen


The United Pentecostal Church is a small branch of the pentecostal movement, separated by dogma and their "holiness standard." Theologically they are Sebelians, which is the belief that there is no Trinity, but instead God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are in fact all one. This differentiates them from Trinitarians who believe that The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are separate and distinct "persons" within the Godhead. They also teach that salvation comes from accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior, repenting of past sins, and being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. One's salvation is manifested when the Holy Spirit enters the supplicant and he or she speaks in tongues, that being a language they do not know nor understand, while under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Once a person is saved, they must live by the strict "holiness standard" of the church. This includes many prohibitions to keep away from the sinful world; no TV (though a few UPC's differ on this), no movies, women cannot wear men's apparel (pants, man's shirt, etc.), men cannot wear beards or long hair, etc. The list of holiness rules is long, and often has peculiarities to the local or regional church.
United Pentecostal churches are vigorously evangelistic. They hold revivals, they may have singing groups performing here and there, or they may hand out religious tracts in a popular location. Their services are designed to either bring about conversion or to strengthen the resolve of the faithful.

There are approximately 4million United Pentecostal members worldwide. Within the U.S. they are strongest in the south.

Historically the Pentecostal movement began, according to most histories, in 1901 in Topeka, Kansas. The movement spread and split from the Assemblies of God over doctrinal issues in 1916. The UPC was corporately created in 1945.
The United Pentecostal Church in Rapid City, South Dakota, was founded by Pastor J. H. Yohe from Bloomington, Illinois. In 1969 the Yohes, Robbins, Lovins, LaRues, and other families moved to Rapid City. My brother Ken joined in 1970, and I moved to Rapid City in 1973. I had joined the UPC in Austin, Texas in 1971 after my brother suggested that I visit a UPC there. I had a strong mystical experience that converted me on my first visit, and I remained a member until 1978.

Under Yohe the church was active evangelizing. By the time Yohe left in about 1979, the congregation had grown to perhaps 150 people, although many hundreds more had come and gone. We would have outdoor events such as singing and preaching in parks. We would have "revivals" where there was a service every evening and we were expected to invite neighbors, co-workers, and friends so they could be saved. Yohe would constantly preach that we were supposed to bring as many people to the church as possible, and the sermons often pressured us to do more than we had in the past.

A "boys' home" designed for troubled youth was started in about 1972, in two houses next to the church. Up to a dozen young men would stay there, with one of the church women acting as cook and caretaker. A "girls' home" was also started but it generally had fewer occupants. When Yohe left he would move the boys' home to his new location in Louisiana.

There were many fundraising programs for building or evangelical plans. The women's auxiliary made and sold peanut brittle. The young men in the church would gather, cut, and deliver firewood. And of course, we were required to give a "tithe" of 10% of our income, plus donations. Yohe also would sometimes "borrow" from different members of the congregation. Most members were poor, but there were some successful businessmen as well.

In about 1975 the church bought a 7-acre lot at the top of a hill on Maple Street in northern Rapid City. The old church building was moved from 2nd street and Kansas City up to the new property onto a new foundation. A pre-fab house was built next door for offices and for the girls' home. I can't recall where the boys stayed at this location. Yohe had purchased a 10-acre lot farther north on Haines Avenue, where he built a pre-fab house. Church members would often visit there. Yohe also had a property in Piedmont that he planned to build a summer cabin on, but this was sold to a member when he began building spec. homes. I recall Yohe preaching once that he would turn his home into a parsonage (where the church would own it) but this was never done.

Beginning about 1976 Yohe began preaching and promoting the idea that we needed a new church building to attract the more financially well-off. He envisioned a large impressive building with a glass elevator in front. Later elaborated sermons promoting this plan included his visions of the wall of the new church covered with canes and crutches that were no longer needed by the many people who had been healed by God in the new building. The inference was that once the new building was completed, miracles would become commonplace in the church. Construction began in early 1978 at the highest corner of the property, but it was not completed until Yohe had been long gone.

Also in September 1976 the church opened a private school for their children.  This was run by the Storms using the ACE system developed by Baptists.  Under O'Neil the school was opened up for non-church members as well.

In about 1977 Ken started writing a treatise on the things he thought were unbiblical within the UPC. At the time he was secretly writing this, I was becoming disillusioned with the church myself. It was mostly small things for me, like the pastor accusing me of doing something I didn't do, and berating me for missing a service when I was in fact trying to reach a group of people who I thought were in a "cultish" group. Also, I felt spiritually drained from the church rather than enriched.

When I found out about Ken's project, I decided to stay in the church until we handed out his treatise. Ken's goal was to stir up discussion and hopefully steer the church into a more Biblical stance, as he saw it. Mine was to find some place where I could be spiritually uplifted from my depression.

I paid for about 15 copies of Ken's 68-page treatise, handed out a few, and gave the rest for Ken to distribute. He had already given one to the pastor. I left for Austin, Texas where I had been originally converted. I was hoping that the church there could help me spiritually. It turned out, however, that they were in the middle of a split as well, so I left after a few weeks and moved to Arizona.

Meanwhile Yohe, after at least perusing Ken's article, gathered other pastors to one of the next services. Included was an expert on Greek from Minneapolis, which was the original language the New Testament was written in. Ken went back to the Greek often to make his points of contention. During this service, while Ken was sitting in the back pew, the pastor declared that "this book is from the pits of hell." The Greek expert attempted to disprove some of Ken's points, and Yohe berated some people by name. After the service the Greek expert refused to talk to Ken.

Yohe's style of management was to basically run everything. There was a board, as required by IRS rules, but as Rick said, “under Yohe the function of the board was to say yes.” I consider that I was in a cult when I look back on this time. Yohe had the final word on everything. His sermons were constant drumbeats for us to do more and more for God, by giving more of our time and money. We were to abide by the holiness standard to the letter and view outsiders more as potential converts than as fellow human beings.

Some families who read Ken's book took it to heart so much that they left the UPC. This wasn't Ken's intention, but it essentially split the church. Three families and a few individuals left when it was clear that Yohe was not willing to consider anything that Ken had brought up. Ken also left.

Months later during a service, Pastor Yohe had some sort of mental breakdown as he was preaching. He was exorting the congregation that they must convert the world to Christianity - a tall order for a congregation of 150. Senior members of the congregation contacted the regional supervisor of the UPC over their concern about their pastor. When Yohe heard of this phone call, he became irate. He packed up his family and some members of the boys' home, and moved to Louisiana where he set up his operation. A few families left with him, further splitting the church.

What followed from this point was a series of pastors who came and went. Brother LaRue had been assistant pastor and was interim pastor until a full-time pastor could be found. He then followed Yohe to Louisiana. James O'Neil, from Hastings, Nebraska, was voted in after being the only person to apply for the job. He was seen as more business-like rather than Yohe and worked on getting the church's fiscal and physical matters in order. The new building was finished under O'Neil.

The school closed in May of 1985.

After O'Neil left in about 1988, Rick Kahler was interim pastor until Brother Davis, who had been an evangelist in Zimbabwe, was voted in. He was seen as being more liberal, and in fact quit after 7 months, mainly from pressure from the more conservative parishioners. The Chmelers followed Davis to Texas.

During Davis' pastorship, brothers Rick and David Kahler worked out a property swap between David's 1st Assembly of God in southern Rapid City and the UPC. It was obvious that the UPC was not growing in membership, while the Assembly of God church was. The swap included a sum of money for the UPC since it was getting the smaller building and property.

Brother Milam was the next pastor, coming in about 1989. He was more conservative and more controling. For example, he gradually removed Rick Kahler of any position within the church. Rick eventually quit. Several other parishioners quit under Milam's heavy hand as well. Some left due to his unusual theological stands, such as that physical sickness is an indication of spiritual deficiency.
Lloyd Ruckman, who had been a UPC pastor in Yankton, South Dakota before moving to Rapid City, started an alternative church to Milam's. Several families and parishioners went there after tiring of Milam. The Storms left under Milam.
Ron Lovins, who had been district superintendent, took over after Milam left. He was more middle-of-the-road. I do not know why Milam left.

After Lovins' brief tenure, John Reed took the pastorship. Reed moved the church away from UPC affiliation. There was a vote, and those who wanted to remain with the UPC left to form another church. Thus this was yet another split.
I do not know why Lovins and Reed quit, nor how long they stayed in office. Dick Stahl became pastor after Reed and is still in that position, still in the St. Francis Street building.. The UPC church meets in Black Hawk.

Even though the church had a tumultuous time, it essentially maintained its theological stance that still follows basic UPC doctrine today. Multiple pastors, multiple splits, multiple moves, and multiple miscellaneous challenges did not kill the church, though it has a milder temperament now.

My theory before writing this brief history was that after so many changes between pastors, after voting for who could become pastor, and after times when the board ran the church rather than any pastor, I thought that the congregation (those that remained, at least) would have gradually come to realize that there was less need for a pastor, or at least that the pastor could be diminished in the amount of control he could hold over the congregation. This seems not to have happened. Each time the church went looking for a new pastor when one left. Each time the pastor held the same position as far as power and control went. So I'm left to see that tradition and continuity won out over any new understanding that may have arisen over any new way to organize the church.


Holiness standard handout we were required to sign

read Ken's treatise here