The Presbyterians trace their history the 16th century Protestant Reformation and to the teachings of John Calvin. The First Presbyterian Church of Richmond is a member of the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America (PCUSA) which is located in Louisville, Kentucky. The PCUSA church was formed in the nineteenth century as a result of the doctrinal disputes over slavery, science and modern philosophy within the Presbyterian Church. The PCUSA currently has 2.4 million members, 11,100 congregations, and 14,000 ordained and active ministers.
The First Presbyterian Church traces it origins to the original Presbyterian Church that was founded in Richmond Virginia in 1812. It consisted of 16 members with Dr. John H. Rice appointed as its pastor. The original Presbyterian Church was located on Main Street between 27 th and 28 th Street. In 1816, the Presbyterian Church moved from its original site to a new location a few blocks away between 17 th and 18 th Street on Main Street and adopted its present name, the First Presbyterian Church. During the 19 th century, the First Presbyterian Church experienced various changes in its membership and developed several different church schools. Starting in 1821, the Manchester Presbyterian Church merged with the First Presbyterian Church. In 1824, Dr. Rice organized a theological school that came to be known as Union Theological Seminary. Then in 1838, approximately 100 members withdrew from the First Presbyterian Church and organized the Fourth Presbyterian Church. As the First Presbyterian Church congregation grew, a need for a Sunday school arose, and it was established in 1844. By 1845, there was a need to start another congregation, which led to the formation of the Second Presbyterian Church. With a membership of 336, the First Presbyterian Church decided to erect a new church at the corner of Capital Square and Tenth Street, where Richmond City Hall is now located. In 1870, about twenty members from the original Manchester Presbyterian Church relocated back to Manchester to what is now called the Southminister Presbyterian Church. In 1885, the First Presbyterian Church was dismantled and reassembled on the corner of Madison and Grace Streets. By 1892 membership in the First Presbyterian Church had grown to 525.
During the 20 th century, the First Presbyterian Church continued to grow, reaching a membership of 470 with 229 attending Sunday school by 1912. Ten years later First Presbyterian Church formed the General Assembly’s Training School with Dr. McFaden as president. It is now known as the Presbyterian School of Christian Education, and by 1925 an education building was constructed. The First Presbyterian Church membership in 1937 reached 691, resulting in a decision to build a new church. A site for the church was purchased at the corner of Cary Street Road and Locke Lane, the church’s current location. Building construction begun and the new education building was completed by 1940, the sanctuary building was completed and dedicated in 1950, and the final additions to the educational building were finished by 1954. To meet the needs of the members of the First Presbyterian Church, a kindergarten day school was established in 1956. The congregation of 1350 members added air conditioning for the sanctuary in 1962. In 1972, Mrs. Anne Gordon Harrison became the first woman to be ordained as ruling elder in the First Presbyterian Church. The Presbyterian Church of the United States (PCUS) and the United Presbyterian Church merged in 1983 and formed the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America (PCUSA). Finally, major renovations updating the sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church occurred in 1996.
The Sunday services are determined by the local pastor and are kept within the guidelines of the PCUSA church’s governing body. The Presbyterian Church of the United States of America “Book of Order” provides information concerning the PCUSA beliefs. Sunday service typically includes prayer, music, scripture reading, sermon, sacraments, time for personal response, and community concerns. In addition, Sunday school classes for all ages are held each Sunday, and there are evening services held during the week at various locations throughout the community.
First Presbyterian Church hosts a congregation of over 1650 members and describes itself as theologically reformed. The congregation is composed primarily of middle and upper- middle class families of all ages, and most members are of European descent. The church pastor is supported by a large staff that administers programs in music, youth ministries, children’s ministries, daycare, and outreach. The First Presbyterian Church is actively involved with many local outreach programs. These would include music, radio, youth and children ministries, educational schools, nursery, and preschool. In addition, the First Presbyterian Church supports many Richmond Virginia outreach programs, including Congregations Around Richmond Involved To Assure Shelter (CARITAS), Volunteer Emergency Families for Children VEFC in Virginia, Presbyterian Homes & Family Services, and building houses for the Habitat for Humanity foundation. Some of the outreach programs extend beyond Richmond. Some of the recent missions they have sponsored are Presbyterian Children’s Home of the Highlands, Edmarc Hospice for Children in Chesapeake Virginia, Gulf Coast relief for victims of Hurricane Katrina , and Nicaragua Medical Mission Trips. In addition, the First Presbyterian Church has initiated cooperation with the some of the former Soviet Union churches and the Metropolitan African-American Baptist Church in Richmond.
Profile prepared by John Lack