A Long and Inspired History
This June we celebrated 125 years of worship and service. In 1884, a group of earnest people in the United Congregational Church began a movement to establish a Sunday School and other Christian work in the southern part of the city. They made a start in a building on Thames Street not far above Wellington Ave. This became known as Grace Chapel.
Breaking old ties…
Soon worship services and other activities were added. In time, the United Congregational Church recognized the fact that the chapel had grown to a size and power sufficient to warrant separate organization and maintenance. Because of this and the fact that the chapel attendants wanted to make this a Presbyterian body, the Congregational Church decided to withdraw its assistance and support, with the full consent of the chapel congregation.
First step—a congregation….
On June 19, 1888, the organization of the First Presbyterian Church was accomplished by a commission from the Boston Presbytery. Forty-seven persons were accepted into membership at the meeting. Thus the church came into being through the determination of a small group of men and women, largely of Scottish background, who desired to follow the form of worship, model of government, and theological convictions of the heritage of John Calvin and John Knox, in which they had been nurtured.
A place for all to worship….
The cornerstone of a new church building was laid on the current site in 1892. The land was given to the congregation as a gift in memory of Nathaniel and Elizabeth Mumford Hammett.
This gift carried a stipulation: “In the matter of sittings or renting of sittings, no section of the church or block of sittings shall be set aside for the use of the poor, but they shall be provided for anywhere throughout the church by selecting any unleased sittings.” The building was purposefully designed with no balcony, and no provision was made for a future balcony, in order to provide equal seating for all parishioners.
The building was raised, stone by stone, by the original members of the congregation as a sign of their personal commitment to God and to the mission of the Church in spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.
As a result of their dedicated efforts, and in spite of trials and great difficulty, the first preaching service was held in the church Vestry (Fellowship Hall) on March 24, 1894. On April 5, 1896, Easter Sunday, the first worship service was held in the sanctuary. What great joy that must have been for the congregation, now numbering one hundred and eighty-four, and for the many guests present for the occasion!
A true sanctuary…
The sanctuary, adorned with strikingly beautiful stained glass windows, include “banner” windows on the north and south sides of the church. These windows are taken from banner decorations used at the Second Council of the Alliance of Reformed Churches, held in Philadelphia in 1880. They indicate the vast heritage we have in our Presbyterian and Reformed churches, a heritage that has come to us through the ages and from many countries of the world. Every Sunday, these windows remind us that “we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV)
Ongoing labors of love…
Through the years, many additions and modifications have been made. These include the addition of the Manse at 6 Everett Street, a three-floor education building erected in 1959-1960, a major work of restoration and refurbishment in the sanctuary completed in 2000, and a movement of the church offices to the Manse in the same year. Over the course of the church’s history, the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church has been served by eleven pastors:
- Rev. R. Gordon Mackay, 1888-1890
- Rev. James M. Craig, 1890-1897
- Rev. George W. Mead, 1898-1906
- Rev. Aquilla Webb, 1906-1909
- Rev. Nathaniel J. Sproul, 1909-1918
- Rev. Robert R. White, 1919-1925
- Rev. A. Murray Porter, 1926-1930
- Rev. Harry F. Cost, 1930-1948
- Rev. William J. Clark, 1948-1963
- Rev. Dr. Tyler L. Johnson, Jr., 1964-1996 (Pastor-Emeritus)
- Rev. Dr. William J. Maxwell, 1997 – 2017
- Rev. Douglas Forsberg, Assoc. Pastor, 2002 – 2008
Since its official organization in 1888, generations of members and friends of the First Presbyterian Church have given faithful witness to Jesus Christ. Today, the congregation seeks to continue that same faithful witness, to the glory of God! June 23, 2013 marked a major milestone in the history of First Presbyterian Church. We remembered those who founded and sustained the church through 125 years of triumphs and trials. We rejoiced and gave thanks for God’s blessings on this congregation throughout the years, and we pledged to continue reaching out to those within and around our church family, with love and helping hands. We lifted our voices in songs of praise with handbells, choir, organ and brass. We enjoyed fellowship and good food at a celebratory brunch at the Viking Hotel, where we honored long-time members.
As part of our 125th Anniversary celebration, this book was created to document the trials and triumphs of the generations of determined congregations who founded, built, and sustained our church.