Dunkin column: First Presbyterian celebrates 190 years

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 23, 2011

First Presbyterian Church was organized August 1, 1821 with thirteen original members: Albert Torrence, Sr., Elizabeth Torrence, Hugh Horah, Mary Horah, Thomas L. Cowan, Elizabeth Cowan, Dr. Alexander Long, Mary Long, John Fulton, Charity Gay, Mary T. Holland, Ann Murphy, and Margaret C. Beckwith. In 1826 the first church was built on the corner of West Innes and Jackson Streets.
This month I have reflected upon the vision that drew those 13 individuals to organize this congregation, and I can only wish that those people could see how God has used their commitment 190 years later in Salisbury! There has been so much growth in those years and so many lives have been transformed because of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When I look through the history I see that this congregation has always been focused on mission efforts. One account speaks of the women of the church removing the carpet from the sanctuary to make blankets for soldiers during the Civil War. In the past 30 years the mission efforts are remarkable. In 1982 First Presbyterian took the lead in opening a Soup Kitchen in the basement of its sanctuary. The kitchen averaged 85 well-balanced meals a day for those in need. Soon volunteers joined from other churches: Sacred Heart Catholic Church, First Baptist Church, First Methodist, St. Luke’s Episcopal, and First United Church of Christ. This effort evolved into Rowan Helping Ministries in 1989.
Twenty years ago the youth began traveling to South Texas to build homes for families in need in Mexico. Persons from this church served on the initial board for what is now “Faith Ministries” in McAllen, Texas. Volunteers from across the United States continue to come to build houses in Mexico for those in need.
Eleven years ago this church began sending a medical team to Mwandi, Zambia, Africa where over 500 eye surgeries and significant AIDs efforts have taken place in a now sustainable village hospital. Plans are now underway to begin construction of a chapel for the village.
Ten years ago this church began a commitment to Rio Verde, Goias, Brazil with other Presbyterian churches in North Carolina. A hospital chapel, sanctuary, manse, community center (which houses 275 young children and has a space for worship with 200 gathering each Sunday afternoon with more than 100 baptisms in the last two years) all have been constructed. Building has just begun on a medical/dental clinic in this impoverished area.
Over the last two years our middle school youth have packed an average of 20 backpacks per week with food for children at Overton Elementary who would otherwise go hungry on the weekend.
Those 13 people in 1821 never dreamed how God would use future generations to reach people with the good news of Jesus Christ! Baptisms, public statements of faith and examples of the nurturing of faithful disciples are too numerous to count. A printed history from December, 1828, recorded these words: “As it is an act of grace, that any poor sinner is ever called from darkness to light, and brought into the visible church – and as it is an unspeakable privilege that Christians are permitted to worship together, and to partake jointly in the Ordinances of God’s House, the foundation of in any town or neighborhood is an event, the remembrance of which should be cherished and prolonged by the members thereof. And as God hath in mercy planted a church here, and hath blessed the means of grace which have been here dispensed, not only to the satisfaction of the original members, but in making frequent additions to the number, we are encouraged to believe not only that God does recognize this as a true church, but that God will continue to preserve and increase it through succeeding ages.”
May God continue what began 190 years ago to preserve and increase “acts of grace” becoming visible through First Presbyterian Church, and all communities of faith in Salisbury. Happy 190th anniversary to one of those meaningful communities of faith!
And what will the story be 190 years from now?
Jim Dunkin is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Salisbury.