Full History of our Church - Part I - 1829-1979
During the early 1800's, plans were laid to establish the town of London, Ohio. Lots were purchased for individual homes and businesses. Necessary services included merchants, tanneries, a mill, dry goods, hardware, eating establishments and taverns.
On September 26, 1829, a group of 20 citizens gathered at the home of Charles Berry to discuss the formation of a Presbyterian Church. This group was led by D.C. Allen and services were held in the Courthouse building at Main and High Streets until 1834-1835, when a frame church building was erected on the corner of Oak and Fifth Streets.
Rodney Star, sociologist, Presbyterians Today, has studied the census and has found that in the 1800's only 17% of the American population were church members. Today that figure is about 60%.
The congregation came to church services..."on foot, by horseback and buckboard...historians tell us that often times buck-skinned breeches, hunting shirts and coonskin caps are mingled with the more sedate fashions of the business men and the homespun clothes of the ladies...and the men sat on the left side of the center aisle and the women on the right...lest their attention be distracted from the preacher's sermon. Hymns were "lined out".
D.C. Allen helped the church during the organization years from 1829, and was called as the pastor in 1833, leaving in 1837.
The population of the Village of London in 1835 was not more than 300.
"Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them." Exodus: 24-25
The village of London was growing and so was the Presbyterian Church. The people were led to have a brick structure installed at the corner of Main and Second Streets. The frame church building was sold. Pastor E. Van Derman served the church during 1838. His untimely death necessitated the search for a new minister.
Between the years 1840-1854 the minister for the church was R.C. McComb. During his tenure the first permanent newspaper, The London Sentinel, was published in 1843. The big "conflagration" of 1854 devastated many of the buildings of London, but the First Presbyterian Church was not affected.
The first bell for the church was purchased in 1849. In 1861, London's first bank, Madison County Bank, was opened.
C.W. Finley was the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church during the Civil War and Reconstruction years, 1859-1877.
Reverend Finley was employed by the Columbus Presbytery. Headquartered in London, he served the congregations of London, Midway, Mt. Sterling, Genoa and Grove City. He was duly installed in the London Presbyterian Church in 1859.
James G. Patterson was called to the church in 1877, he resigned in 1881.
John A. Ewalt served as the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church for eighteen years between 1882 and 19091. This period of time saw many cultural organizations being formed in London: a library, the Mason's, a post of the Grand Army of the Republic and others.
A preface to a book, Cheerful Songs, says, "There are many books of songs on the market, but the editors of this work trust that it has a mission in the world. They sent it out with the prayer that many souls may be helped toward the blessed Land of Song by it." The hymnal is titled "Cheerful", but songs deal with the flo of blood, death and crossing the river, and others of that genre.
First Presbyterian Church was growing and changing. The brick structure at Main and Second Streets was remodeled during the years when R.C. Roscamp led the church as the minister. He supplied the church beginning the first of February 1901, and stayed until 1905. Fourteen memorial windows were installed in this church, and a pipe organ was presented to the church by W.D. and Mrs. Delia Williams.
D.C. Jones was the Pastor of the church from October 1905 until 1908. At this date 536 different members had been listed on the church rolls.
During Pastor J.A. Liggett's tenure, 1908-1915, R.K. Shaw was the leader of teh Busy Men's Bible Class which organized in 1913. According to a ledger/minutes book, designated "Sunday Collections" were given to the Sunday School and church related events. The final entry in the bankbook was dated February 26, 1979. The following poem was found among the papers of the class:
GOD KEEP OUR BOYS
"O God, in whom the nations trust,
We now commend to Thee
Our noble Boys who've bravely gone
To fight for Liberty.
O keep them safe within Thy care
When danger cometh nigh;
Through all war's peril's may they pass
Beneath Thy watchful eye."
(At the time of this writing, while America is engaged in the Iraq conflict we are reminded of the old adage "history repeats itself". A.V.)
While Carl H. White was the minister for the church, 1915-1921, 810 members had been received into membership.
During this period it was decided to build a new church building: location Walnut and Second Streets; estimated cost, $30,000. The new structure incorporated the memorial windows. The cornerstone was laid October 22, 1916, and the dedication service was on February 17, 1918. (See History of Presbyterian Church 1929-1979 for contents of the cornerstone.)
A pulpit Hymnal published in 1895, revised in 1911, including a 1917 supplement, still solemn in nature, has penciled in "Many can make a household; but only one can make a home - mother". (Mothers Day? A.V.)
The bell, which was first installed in the Main and Second Streets church has had an interesting, but controversial history. The architect refused to use the bell in designing the Walnut Street building, even at the consternation of some of the parishioners.
The old bell was silenced for many years, brought out to be heard again only when there was a special parade. The bell pealed out the armistice of World War I and the peace of World War II. Now the bell rests at its new location outside the entrance to the Garfield Avenue site.
September 14, 1927, brought the burning of the mortgage. The reverend Curtis E. Shields led the congregation through the redecoration of the church to celebrate the Centennial year. Pastor Shields resigned in 1932 to become the chaplain at the London Prison Farm.
Ivan L. Wilkins, (1932-1947), helped to finish the redecoration in 1939. A rededication service was held on November 25, 1945. The rotary system of elders was adopted. The Great Depression and World War II are historical facts of this period of American Life. Mr. Wilkins resigned in 1947 to become General Presbyter of Columbus, serving Marion and Zanesville Presbyteries.
Greer S. Imbrie came to London in 1947 to serve the church until he was called to the Navy in 1952. He became the minister of Bowling Green Ohio, Presbyterian Church in 1954.
During the years when our nation was fighting in Korea, Frank L. Baldwin was the minister for the London church. This period saw the Sunday School classrooms enlarged and remodeled and 162 acres of land on Garfield Avenue was purchased for future location. The Reverend Gordon Skadra led the church from 1961-1966, the Vietnam War years.
In 1967, Gordon Johnson answered God's call to come to the First Presbyterian Church, London, Ohio. The years have been very fruitful for the church, and "...because of his love for preaching and this church..." a very satisfying life work for The Reverend Johnson.
The years between 1967 and 1979 brought many activities into the new First Presbyterian Church which was built on Garfield Avenue and the first phase was dedicated on Sunday, May 6, 1973. The Good Shepherd stained glass window was brought from the Walnut Streete church and installed in the new church.
A Nursery School was opened in September 1973 followed by the Day Care Center two years later. Connie Dwyer, instrumental in organizing both programs, served for 2-3 years as the first volunteer director. Mental Health and Fairhaven School also used the facilities for several years.
On July 23, 1978, Mrs. Terry Phleger was ordained in her home church. She is the first seminary student from First Presbyterian Church to complete requirements for ordination
The 150th celebratory year culminated on September 30, 1979.
As one peruses the historical articles available, it is obvious that the First Presbyterian Church, London, Ohio, has weathered the changes and events in American society with growth, and faith that God will be there to help it meet the challenges accompanying that growth.
The study of bulletins, hymnals, programs of women's meetings, papers of Sunday School and special events, and reading through the names of officers has brought about an appreciation of the heritage that we have received from people of the past. Even today, when our country appears to be in a flux of changes, the church is able to stand firm.
What will the following historical periods bring?
Full History of our Church - Part II - 1980-2004
Seeking to follow God's will, the people of First Presbyterian Church have sought to witness to him through service to His Church, in our community, across our country, and throughout the world in the past quarter century.
In 1981, the Session, after prayerful consideration, determined that the congregation was ready to embark upon Phase Two of the Garfield Avenue building project. Appropriately, the Adult Choir sang the anthem "Build Thee More Stately Mansions" when the new sanctuary was dedicated on February 28, 1982.
Symbolic stained glass windows graced the south side of the sanctuary and a large narthex with display case and coatroom welcomed all who entered. Many members and Church friends, whose names were listed in a memorial book, provided special gifts and memorial furnishings for the new addition. The parlor, along with it's adjoining kitchenette would become of the site of meetings, Bible studies, classes, receptions, celebrations, and funeral visitations.
Following Christ's example of concern for children, First Church continued to offer Sunday school classes or a nursery for all age groups, encourage the Cherub, Westminster, and Bell choirs, and promote an active youth group. Inspired by their leaders, children and youth responded with enthusiastic participation and service.
Young people accepted the roles of acolyte and crucifer during worship. Variously called Presbyterian Youth, God Squad, or Kids in Christ, the youth, with congregational support, made several mission trips including work in inner-city Indianapolis, New Mexico and Tennessee.
First Church continued to reach out to the children and young people of the community through Community Nursery School, scouting, and Vacation Bible School, which was held jointly with other churches each summer. In 1997 the Session and Advisory Board of Community Nursery School changed its name to Presbyterian Child Care Center in an effort to more accurately reflect the close relationship with the Church and to better describe the center's focus.
PCC celebrated thirty years of service to the community's families in 2003, today, with Mrs. Cindy Clifton as Director, the Center cares for as many as 212 children in its preschool, daycare, and before-and after-school programs, and provides full and part-time employment for thirty or more people.
Service through mission has been a common thread throughout the past two and one-half decades. In addition to its many mission endeavors, the Presbyterian Women coordinated numerous activities that enhanced the life of the Church, including wedding receptions, funeral meals, Mother/Daughter banquets, Communion preparation, prayer line, and Christmas decorating.
Professional nurses and pharmacists have continued to offer blood pressure checks and medication information. Shut ins and hospital patients have benefited from visits by Deacons, who have also provided transportation to worship services and other Church activities. Dedicated techaers have led Boatrockers, Homebuilders, Pathfinders, and Flock of Ages adult Sunday school classes, and singers have offered their voices to the glory of God in the Sanctuary and Calvin choirs.
First Presbyterian Church has been well represented by volunteers who have extended their help beyond the Church doors. They have staffed Food through Faith food cupboard and the Soup Kitchen, joined CROP Walk for Hunger, and since 1997, sent several teams each year to the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. In 2003 and 2004, several members contributed their time and talents to help build a family home with Madison County Habitat for Humanity.
Responding to mission opportunities and service beyond our community, members of First Church have worked in a variety of capacities. Commissioned Presbyterian Voilunteers in Mission, Carlynn and Richard Tracey served in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1985, and Marjorie Hopkins journeyed to Cameroon, West Africa, three years later.
Pastor Gordon Johnson represented the Presbytery of Scioto Valley three times as a commissioner at the General Assembly. He was also selected by the Synod of the Covenant to travel to Mexico City as part of its mission study of developing countries. Extending his service to the Presbytery, Pastor Johnson accepted the challenging role of Moderator in 1994.
First Church established a partnership with Ratchakit Pakdee Church of Christ in Thailand in 1996 when Pastor Gordon and Mrs. Ruthanne Johnson led a group of Presbytery youth to the Asian country. Since then, members of both congregations have enjoyed exchanging and hosting visits.
Several additions to our worship and a redesign of the Church narthex were part of the new millennium. Linking past to present, Eagle Scout Spender Elliott fashioned a wooden cross using a beam he recovered from the rubble of the first church building erected in 1834, on Oak and Fifth Streets. Placed in the narthex, the cross reminded us of our heritage. On November 3, 2002, the Columbarium, located in the south wall of the narthex, was dedicated, and Elder Floy M. Walls became the first to be interred.
An informal worship service at 8:30 was added to the Sunday morning schedule in September 2000, and an electronic keyboard, payed by Richard "Clint" Morse was dedicated during the early service on May 4, 2003. Music Director Thomas Lloyd chaired a drive to raise funds to install a pipe organ in the sanctuary. On June 29, 2003, members and friends of First Church rejoiced at the dedication of the Bunn-Minnick 42-rank pipe organ and it's 2,561 pipes, including some pipes saved from the 1901 organ whose home had once been in the Walnut Street church building.
First Presbyterian Church has been blessed with strong leaders and staff. In 1987, Parish Associate Pastor George Alexander joined our congregation when his employment in Ohio's prison system brought him to London. Coming full circle, Pastor Terry Phleger, in 1999, returned to our congregation upon her retirement from the active ministry, but she continued to lead by teaching Bible Seekers 101 Sunday school class.
Marsha Sternad, a church office manager took on the additional duties of Christian Education Director, and our presbytery certified Elder Sternad and Elder Steve Watters as lay pastors three years later in 2003.
In November of that same year, Pastor Gordon E. Johnson, having celebrated his forty-fifth anniversary of ordination on August 10, 2003, marked thirty-six years of dedicated leadership, inspiring this congregation with his faithfulness as the longest-serving pastor in the history of First Church.
Organ concerts, Christian theatrical skits, and a Welsh hymn sing were some of the activities that have highlighted the special anniversary year. With thankfulness for the saints of the Church who first responded to God's call to establish a Church in London, Ohio, one hundred seventy-five years ago, the people of First Presbyterian Church, confident in trusting God's pan for them, face the future with renewed determination to witness to the Church of Jesus Christ.