Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer
Growing up in Raleigh, one did not need to be a member of First Presbyterian Church to know that they are a cornerstone of the city. Not only is the building one of four church buildings flanking the perimeter of our State Capital building, but it seems that their ministry infiltrates every corner of the city at some point in the year.
For many years, this congregation was known to me through the stories that my mother told me of her college years when there was always a chance she could find herself worshipping in the fellowship hall of First Presbyterian while she listened and watched the service on a television if she didn’t arrive in time to find a seat in the sanctuary. I personally came to know and love this congregation when I was in high school and looking for a youth group to call home. I later returned as a college student and co-director of a mission based camp for middle-school youth. I was never a member of the congregation (my church home was only a few miles away) but their nurturing ministry changed my outlook on church.
This past May I returned to First Presbyterian Church on behalf of Union Presbyterian Seminary. Almost ten years after playing “Sardines” (a favorite youth group game) in the dark halls below the sanctuary the night before singing in the youth choir during worship, I looked out at familiar faces and a new sanctuary layout. The stories were the same, but their resting place was different. I began to think about if it changed this much in ten years, how did my Mom feel coming to church with me 20-30 years after she first visited for the first time.
This coming January, First Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC will celebrate their 200th anniversary (only four years following Union’s own 200th anniversary.) In these 200 years, their ministry has not just changed my own life, but the lives of thousands of other individuals who attended worship there and those who have encountered their ministry throughout the community whether that be Sunday morning worship, assistance through the outreach program, or a bagged lunch from the hands of a youth group member.
Since some of their earliest years, First Presbyterian Church and Union Presbyterian Seminary have been partnered in ministry. Dr. Drury Lacy became the second permanent pastor in 1837 following his education at Union Theological Seminary (then housed at Hampden Sydney College.) Seminary students were regularly brought to Raleigh to work with both First Presbyterian Church and the surrounding counties as part of Dr. William McClanahan White’s focus on mission. For a majority of the most recent century, the congregation and the town have benefitted from Union educated leaders- Dr. James Sprunt, Dr. Albert Edwards, Dr. Edwin Stock, and currently Dr. Ed McLeod.
This centuries old congregation has helped to shape the face of Christianity and Presbyterians in Raleigh, NC and in turn shaped the culture of the community. From their start, they have opened their doors and their hearts to “the least of these” and shared The Gospel in such a way that not only were individuals able to learn it, but they were also able to live it. Their doors have been opened to people of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds. Their meeting space has been used by congregations of other denominations as they waited for their own buildings to be built. The state Supreme Court and NC Constitutional Convention even used the space for meetings when the Capitol building across the street burned in 1831.
Today, First Presbyterian Church and Union Presbyterian Seminary are entering a new chapter of ministry side by side. As the landscape of ministry shifts, leaders are working with one another to discern the next steps needed both to carry the congregation forward into the changing landscape of ministry and to prepare new leaders who might one day fill the pulpit at the corner of Morgan and Salisbury Streets.
Join members of First Presbyterian Church in Raleigh for a 200th anniversary commemoration service on January 21, 2016 at the North Carolina State Capitol (across the street from the church building, and where the congregation first gathered.)
To learn more about the history of First Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, please visit http://www.fpcraleigh.org/