Who We Are >> History
As Presbyterians, we trace our history back to the 16th century and the Protestant Reformation. First Presbyterian Church of Greenwood, Mississippi, organized in 1846 under the leadership of the Rev. Robert M. Morrison. From its beginning, our church had a close association with the Methodists.
The Early Years
The early church was a Union Church in which the Methodists conducted the services two Sunday each month and the Presbyterians the other two. The early building was located on the corner of Market and George Streets. Both congregations owned the building. The combined Presbyterian and Methodist worship services continued until 1886.
In 1887 the original building was sold and moved; a new building was erected on the original site and the first service was held in 1889. The congregation worshiped in this building from 1889-1903. When that building was destroyed by a fire, Jewish friends offered their Synagogue as a place for local Presbyterians to worship. At that time, there were 140 communicants on roll.
The cornerstone for the third church building was laid in 1904 with construction completed in 1905. The sanctuary of this building was built on the Akron plan and contained a Pilcher pipe organ of 10 ranks. A Sunday School assembly building, fellowship hall and offices were part of this building. Today, this building houses the Church Parlor, Heritage Library, Church Offices and the Choir Room.
A New Sanctuary
In 1925, construction began on the present sanctuary, designed in the “Delta Gothic” style. This room, with its elevated choir loft, vaulted ceiling, and balcony, contained a Moller pipe organ of 11 ranks. The following years were financially difficult due to the Depression. Due to the labor and dedication of its member, First Presbyterian Church’s mortgage was paid and the church building was dedicated on November 9, 1944.
The church celebrated its Centennial year in 1946. Because of the growing membership, a new education building was constructed in 1956. In 1986, the building was named the Van M. Arnold Education Building in honor of the pastor at the time of its construction. A week-day kindergarten began in 1959. The next project was a renovation of 1905 sanctuary building. The McIntyre family members donated a bell for the church tower from Greenbriar Plantation in memory of their father and grandfather. In 1969 a weekly newsletter was first mailed to members.
Growth & Expansion
Throughout the years, many changes and improvements were made as First Presbyterian continued to grow. In 1971, an elementary school was begun in the education building and continued to operate until 1975. The Wednesday Club, a luncheon club for older members, met from 1972-1996. In 1973 a new Casavant pipe organ was installed in the sanctuary. The organ provided the foundation for future additions that were made in 1990 and 2007.
The congregation purchased a neighboring building in 1977 which was used for local scouting groups. This structure was totally remodeled and named the Lolla Boyd Parish Youth Center in 1989. In 1983 St. Andrew’s Presbytery voted in favor of reuniting with the northern church, thus forming the Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. Although this marked a sign of change, improvements continued, including the donation of a new Casavant organ console by Mr. and Mrs. L. B. Jones and a complete renovation of the sanctuary which was completed in 1990.
In 1996, First Presbyterian celebrated its 150 years with a sesquicentennial celebration. A special joint service was held with the First United Methodist congregation in remembrance of our common history as a Union Church from 1846-1886. Leaders from both churches led the worship and children portrayed characters from our early church history.
Throughout the years, several groups of our congregation have met faithfully, including the Usher’s Guild, the Men’s Breakfast/Bible Study, Presbyterian Women, and the Presbyterian Youth Fellowship.
Over the last nineteen years, some 380 persons, counting confirmands, have joined this congregation. They have brought new energy, new gifts and new ideas. A $1 million renovation of the Van Arnold Education Building was undertaken. In 2010, we dedicated another $1 million to buy some property, improve handicapped accessibility on the sanctuary side of the street and renovated the Church Parlor (formerly the 1904 sanctuary). We removed the ceiling and repaired plaster. We reworked stained glass windows. We also added new stained glass windows, small and large, to the Church Parlor and surrounding entrances.
With the addition of new members and the generosity of the congregation, annual pledges grew from $310,000 to $885,000. Benevolences to local, state, national and international mission doubled and some years tripled. We sponsored mission trips for youth and adults to places like Belize and the Dominican Republic. We established an Endowment Fund which generates extra funds every year. This allows us to increase our mission outreach and take care of capital improvements.
First Presbyterian Church has led the way in supporting the work of the Community Kitchen, the Community Food Pantry, Fuller Center for Housing (formerly Habitat for Humanity), and Delta Streets Academy. We have supported missionaries who have done extensive work in China and Iran.
Dismissal to ECO
On September 23, 2018 the congregation voted to be dismissed from the Presbyterian Church – USA (PCUSA) to A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO). This was the culmination of a lawsuit filed by FPC in May 2015 against St. Andrew Presbytery to clarify ownership of all property and assets of FPC - and the subsequent settlement agreement offered by St. Andrew Presbytery. The settlement agreement provided that the only way FPC Greenwood could obtain clear title to its property without being subject to PCUSA’s trust clause would be to vote for dismissal from the PCUSA to another Reformed denomination. The congregation voted overwhelmingly for dismissal by a margin of 249 – 3.
The issue of local congregational property ownership has been an issue in the PCUSA since before the denomination’s formation in 1983 with the merger of the United Presbyterian Church in the USA and Presbyterian Church in the United States. Congregations of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S., which FPC Greenwood was a member of prior to 1983, did not hold property in trust for the denomination until immediately before the reunion of the two denominations. As a condition of being a part of this denominational merger, FPC Greenwood understood that it had taken the proper steps to be explicitly exempt from holding its property in trust for the denomination and thus solely controlled its property. Prior to the settlement agreement, St. Andrew Presbytery contended FPC Greenwood was subject to the denomination’s trust clause.
Following the reunion of the two denominations, as PCUSA leadership and seminaries became increasingly engaged in support of multiple politically left-leaning issues, PCUSA denominational leadership used the property trust clause to increase the difficulty for congregations wishing to leave the denomination. As political and property issues continued to become more contentious in the denomination, the Session of FPC formed a Denominational Relations Task Force in 2006 to monitor these issues, especially as they related to the interaction between local congregations and higher governing bodies of the denomination and how that might affect the property and assets of FPC Greenwood.
In late 2014 First Presbyterian Church in Starkville, MS was going about the process of considering leaving the PCUSA. In response to this congregational process, in February 2015 the Presbytery of St. Andrew approved the appointment of an Administrative Commission which, under the constitution of the PCUSA, was given the authority to take control of that congregation’s property, remove the minister, and replace the local congregation’s governing body – the Session. The Session of FPC Greenwood viewed this not only as a threat to the congregation of FPC Starkville but as a threat to all congregations in the Presbytery and subsequently filed suit in Chancery Court to obtain a ruling on the ownership of its own property. Based in large part on the strength of FPC Greenwood’s records demonstrating that it had taken the necessary steps to be exempt from the denomination’s property trust clause, a settlement was reached.
“Today is a historic day in the life of FPC Greenwood” said David Camp, Chairman of the Session’s Denominational Relations Task Force. “We now have absolute certainty that the present and future members of our congregation are the stewards of all that God has entrusted to us over our 175 year history.” Glenn Beckham who is a past chairman of the Task Force stated, “This vote marks a new sunrise for our service in the promotion of God’s Kingdom. Our service to the community and relationships with other Christians will continue unabated, with increased vigor.”
ECO was formed in 2012 and is comprised primarily of former PCUSA congregations or former members of PCUSA congregations that were not allowed to leave the PCUSA due to the denomination’s trust clause and chose to start new congregations in this new denomination. ECO’s mission is to build flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ. Camp commented that this was a primary reason the Session’s Denominational Relations Task Force and Session felt called to ECO. He commented, “In addition to affirming that local congregations control their own property, ECO’s focus on those congregations and their missions will be enable us to continue to thrive as a congregation and be in a denomination whose focus and goals are better aligned with the members of this congregation.”