Jan 12, 2006

First Presbyterian Church

By Eric Olsen

June 18, 2010 Updated Jun 15, 2007 at 4:09 AM EDT

‘Church and State’ may be separate in America, but 'Church and Community' is another matter. There's a church out in your country with a long tradition of getting involved.

The city of churches is slowly losing the substance of its nickname, through tragic acts of god, and shortsighted acts of man. But one local house of worship is celebrating its staying power this year. First Presbyterian Church just turned 175 years old, and you cannot tell the story of Fort Wayne without the story of First Pres.

Patty Griest is a longtime parishioner who's put together a terrific exhibit on the churches history in First Presbyterian’s Art Gallery. First Presbyterian was the first organized church in the Summit City, created in 1831 by numerous city leaders, and Patty Griest has the documents to prove it.

The congregation's first church building was on East Berry Street near Lafayette, a church that would boast several important pastors, chief among them Alexander Rankin, a rabid Abolitionist and founder of Indiana’s Anti-Slavery Society. As the congregation grew, new buildings would be erected, some of them meeting tragic ends until the current complex on Webster Street was constructed, incorporating a remodeled Moose Lodge.

But people, not buildings, are the important organ of any church, and First Presbyterian has been blessed with some gifted leaders. George Mather was pastor from 1971 to 1986 and made many controversial changes. He hired the first clergy woman, created a drama ministery and built the churches theatre. And Mather started First Presbyterians Korean Language Congregation, welcoming into the fold Korean worshipers in need of a sanctuary. First Presbyterian has always been deeply involved in the life of this town, never afraid to take a stand-and that can't help but stir up some controversy; something else this church has never shied away from.

“This is not a Sunday church; this is a seven day a week church. And that's what was determined when the church was built....that it had to be a seven day a week church. It does not just sit there on Sunday and go home and forget it.” Griest said.

First Presbyterian would not be the force it is in Fort Wayne without the leadership it's enjoyed from the very beginning. It's also safe to say that Fort Wayne Indiana without First Presbyterian is a prospect few would of us wish to contemplate.

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