First Presbyterian Church was founded in 1856 by eight people, of which two were actually slaves. The original eight members were John T. Ball, L.A. Ragsdale, David Vance, Mrs. Julia Drinkwater, Mrs. E.A. Emerson, Mrs. S.E. Hanna, Benjamin Emerson, and Jenny Emerson. Rev. Mr. William Curtis Emerson was the organizing pastor. Mr. Ball and Mr. Ragsdale were the founding fathers of the city of Meridian. The first services were held on the second floor of a store owned by one of the members on the corner of Valley Street and 27th Avenue. During the Civil War, Gen. W.T. Sherman’s march to the sea destroyed much of Meridian, including all of the church’s records. We do, however, still have Rev. Emerson’s handwritten diary in our historical room. The initial church building was built in 1867 on the corner of 25th Avenue and Seventh Street, on a lot donated by Mr. Ragsdale. The pastor was Rev. A.L. Kline, and the church had 19 members at the time. The old wood-framed structure was destroyed by fire on the night of January 24, 1883. By February 1884, the small congregation had rebuilt the church, this time in brick at the same location. That structure remained at that address until September 25, 1911, that structure was sold to the City of Meridian for use as a city library. That very building is still standing today and is the location of the Meridian Museum of Art.
Our “New” Home
In 1912, our present church site, at the corner of 23rd Avenue and 10th Street, was purchased. The architect for the new building was Mr. Penn Jeffries Krouse, whose daughter, Mrs. Emily Smith, was a member of our church until her death in 2003. The current church building was built in 1913 and dedicated on March 29, 1914. It cost $60,000 to complete and today takes more than that each year simply to maintain. The original 1867 cornerstone was again laid here at our present church and contains Rev. J.E. Jones’ Bible. Dr. Jones (pastor 1893-1912) was so loved by First Presbyterian that when he died in Macon, GA, church members brought his body to be viewed for several days before being moved on for burial in Georgia. In 1938 the pastor was Dr. A.A. Little. He served as pastor of our church for 20 years. A highlight of his ministry was when First Presbyterian hosted the General Assembly of the Southern Presbyterian Church. Church membership during his tenure was at an all-time high of 850 members. In 1951, our educational building addition (used for Sunday School) was completed under the leadership of pastor Dr. J. Kelly Unger. In 1982 the Sanctuary was renovated, with particular attention given to the interior walls. Efforts continue to be made to maintain the same architectural design as set forth in the 1914 structure.
Looking to the Future
In November of 1990, the congregation of First Presbyterian Church voted to move from the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA) in order to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). The Lord has continued to bless and guide our church since that vote, as we have taken a stronger stand on the authority of Scripture in our service of our Lord Jesus Christ. In October 1996, the adjacent business located to the south side of our church was purchased with the purpose of becoming our Administration Building. In 2001, our pastor for almost 23 years, Rev. Robert Horel, retired. Rev. Horel holds the longest tenure of any of our 15 pastors. Our current pastor, Dr. Rhett G. Payne, III, was called soon thereafter in June of 2002. Under Dr. Payne’s leadership, the church completed its first new construction project in 56 years with the addition of a Children’s Ministry Wing. This project also included renovation of much of the existing structure, along with the addition of an elevator, new restrooms, a bride’s room, and a choir rehearsal room, now equipped with separate changing rooms, for both men and women. The Administration Building has been repaired and renovated as well, with the exterior stone stained to match the Sanctuary Building. The church has also purchased property surrounding our building to provide both sufficient parking in the present and the possibility of growth in the future. The past for our church gives us a great sense of joy and satisfaction, because the Lord has been at work in our congregation for over 150 years. However, as we look to the future, we are excited, because we know that, at least in our lifetime, the best is yet to come! Visit Enlarging Our Vision to learn more about our current construction project and future growth plans.