Presbyterians Observing Same Anniversary Year as Abilene
First Central Presbyterian Church, along with the city of Abilene, is observing its 140th anniversary this year.
A group of Presbyterians gathered at North First and Pine streets to form First Presbyterian Church on Feb. 27, 1881, just two weeks before the first town lots were auctioned on March 15. The current church complex, 400 Orange St., is the result of a union of Central Presbyterian and First Presbyterian churches in 1970. But the history and intertwining of the two congregations dates back much farther.
The following history is taken from the FCPC website and was compiled by Bill Minter, whose great-grandfather, W.A. Minter Sr., was a charter member and elder in the church:
A tent was the first home of Presbyterians in Abilene. The First Presbyterian Church was organized by the Rev. W.M. Brimm on February 27, 1881, in a canvas structure located near North First and Pine Streets. The meeting and first worship service took place two weeks before the town lot sale that was the beginning of the city. A marker in today’s Everman Park reads, ‘The First Presbyterian Church of Abilene, Texas, was organized on this spot, February 27, 1881. W.A. Minter, Elder.’ Soon the young congregation moved into a frame schoolhouse at North Third and Cedar, and in 1884 to their own frame church building.
On August 23, 1885, a group of Cumberland Presbyterians met in the Baptist church. The first service was held October 4, 1885, with the Rev. J.R. Hodges presiding. In 1906 that congregation united with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and was known as The Elm Street Presbyterian Church. In 1909 the Session resolved to erect a large church at North Second and Beech and changed the name to Central Presbyterian Church, a name befitting the magnificent domed structure.
The first Sunday School for First Presbyterian was organized in January 1885 with 9 officers, 20 teachers and 135 scholars. The Ruling Elders implored: “We urge upon the members of the Church, that they take more interest in the Sunday School. The future growth and progress of the Church depends largely on the Sunday School.”
The histories of these two congregations that formed in the 1880s were intertwined long before the 1970 union that formed First Central Presbyterian. From 1916 to 1920 Central Presbyterian and First Presbyterian worshipped together as an independent Presbyterian church. Dr. T.S. Knox was pastor. The congregations voted to end the union in 1920 in a friendly dissolution.
The 1920s were a period of growth in Abilene as First Presbyterian constructed its new building at North Fourth and Orange. It opened for worship on April 6, 1924, with Dr. Knox preaching the first sermon. This building makes up the south end of our present campus and includes Fellowship Hall and classrooms.
Dr. E.B. Surface was called in 1923 to Central Presbyterian. He served the congregation for 23 years. In a congregational meeting on December 8, 1948, the Central congregation authorized the Session to purchase the new location at North Fifth and Grape and build facilities including a new sanctuary and education building. Rev. Frank D. Travis preached the first services on October 1, 1950.
Abilene’s population doubled again in the 1950s. Feeling the need for more space for educational programs, the Session at First Presbyterian voted to proceed with plans for the present Educational Building, which opened in 1954.
In 1970 the two churches again became one. In 1976 the First Central congregation began the building program which constructed the present sanctuary and renovated the previous one for use as Fellowship Hall. Under the leadership of Dr. Roy Zuefeldt, the programs and membership continued to grow. The Edgar Educational Building was acquired and renovated for overflow classroom and program space in the early 1980s. In April of 1993 Dr. Clifford S. Stewart became pastor. In the late 1990s a master plan was formulated. Through the Vision 2000 campaign, the Activity Center was constructed, connecting all First Central facilities to a new gym and Faith Hall multiuse room, large kitchen, offices, the Claudia Austin youth center and classrooms.
The ministry of First Central continues to grow in scope and vitality, reaching across the community and around the globe to further the kingdom of Christ.
Compiled by Bill Minter, with sincere thanks and appreciation for the works and words of Rebel Jackson, Madge Ganey, Mrs. Henry Montgomery, Kathryn Duff and other scribes who over the years have written about FCPC.