First Presbyterian Church has welcomed thousands of residents and visitors to worship within its ever-expanding walls since its formation on Feb. 28, 1848.
Standing as a landmark in downtown Greenville, the church celebrated its 175th anniversary on Sunday, March 5. The two services featured guest speaker the Rev. Dr. Barry Black, 62nd chaplain of the United States Senate.
“It was an exceptional Sunday morning for us,” said the Rev. Dr. Richard Gibbons, senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church. “We’re still coming off a high of the weekend.”
Related: First Presbyterian Church breaks ground on $33 million campus addition
The celebration included a first-look walkthrough of the church’s latest expansion project. Gibbons said the congregation was very excited about the anniversary and to see the progress of the new building.
Even though there is still work to be done, the church’s Executive Director of Operations and Finance, Mike Templeton, said they are very close to the end and are hoping to officially open the new building on Easter.
The $33 million expansion features a worship and arts center, a museum-compliant gallery, a new gymnasium, a bookstore, coffee shop, youth center, children’s facilities and a central gathering space.
“(The church) 175 years ago was probably dark and foreboding – today, not so much,” Gibbons said. “The new building is the very opposite. Light is everywhere. It’s just large, airy and dreamy and that’s how it should be.”
The church’s various renovation and expansion projects throughout its history are a result of Greenville’s growing population. David Dixon, a church elder and principal architect with Craig Gaulden Davis, the firm handling the project, believes this is a “great and wonderful thing.”
“It’s amazing to think that it just began as a little church in a growing city,” Dixon said. “As Greenville has grown so substantially, (the church) is still right in the heart of downtown, still trying to make a huge impact on the people who live, work and are moving to Greenville.”
While the church has struggled to keep up with the city’s growth, Gibbons said the new, 1,000-seat worship and arts center will make it easier to hold their increasing congregation. The additional space will also be used to host artistic and musical performances, the first being ‘Acts the 3-Man Show’ on April 14. For more information, visit FirstPresGreenville.org.
“I anticipate we will get larger and busier, simply because Greenville is getting larger and busier,” Gibbons said. “People are looking for a secure, spiritual home. A place that is life-giving, life-affirming and all of that blends into it. We will hear snatches of conversation that say ‘This is like home.’”
February 28, 1848 – The church was established as a congregation, with five men and 11 women as charter members.
1850 – Vardry McBee presented a deed for a portion of the land the church now sits on. Church trustees paid one dollar for the land to make it a proper real estate transaction.
1851 – The first sanctuary was constructed and completed at the cost of $2,188.41. It was the first Presbyterian structure erected in Greenville. The church was known as The Presbyterian Church of Greenville Court House.
1882 – The original church building was torn down because the congregation had outgrown it as Greenville’s population increased.
1883 – The new church was built for $24,596.71
1911 – The sanctuary was enlarged to fit a growing congregation.
1928 – A red brick educational building was added to the campus
1973 – Another educational wing and gymnasium were added to the church.
1986 – The sanctuary underwent major demolition and expansion that was completed in 1987. The church was reoriented and additional space was added to hold a choir room, conference room, parlor, bridal room, classrooms and storage.
1998 – The church underwent another renovation and expansion program to add a new chapel, classrooms, staff offices, youth floor, fellowship hall and kitchen. The project was completed in 1999.
2019 – The church broke ground on the $33 million, 77,000-square-foot building project.