The Presbyterian Church itself goes back to 1780 when, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church was held. Over the passing years, Presbyterians have continued to have a profound influence and effect upon the life of our nation.
The first recorded Presbyterians in Georgia were Scottish Highlanders. The founders of Presbyterianism in Georgia brought with them their Calvinist creed, their church order, and their deep conviction of faith and the importance of a safe and regulated democracy. One strong characteristic was their insistence upon a representative form of church government, which elevated and inspired their own members to influence the population around them. They believed devoutly that the chief end of man, as the Catechism said, was “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” They believed in and practiced a religion whose strength was in the authority of God’s Word. They did not try so much to adapt that Word to their world as to adapt their world to that Word.
In November of 1853, the First Presbyterian Church of Thomasville was founded. A group of interested persons met in the plantation home, Boxhall, of Mr. A.T. MacIntyre, and seven members organized and were recognized by a Presbytery as members of a new church in Thomasville, GA. After this recognition, they met in homes and in various locations. In 1887, land was purchased at the corner of Jackson and Dawson Streets for the purpose of erecting a church. The first service was held in the new sanctuary in 1889.
Over the years, this church began to grow and expand. The Educational Annex was added in 1926 and the first Fellowship Hall in 1946. One hundred years after the sanctuary was built, the present Fellowship Hall was dedicated. In order to make room for the new Fellowship Hall, the Rockwell Building, a house that was converted to church meeting rooms, was moved. A room in the current Fellowship Hall still bears its name. Soon thereafter, the old Fellowship Hall was converted to a meeting place for the youth. A courtyard was added in 1996 between the new Fellowship Hall and the Sanctuary and hosts many church gatherings.
The present Adult Sunday School Building on Crawford Street was dedicated in 2003. Renovations through the years have added to the continued adequacy of the building for the growth of the church. In 2001, the entire children’s Sunday School Annex upstairs was renovated by the members into “Bibleville” to adapt to the modern Rotational Sunday School Method, which teaches by “hands-on” participation. Through the Loaves and Fishes Diner, Troupe de Acts Theater, Gateway to Heaven Cinema, Joyful Noise Temple, Solomon Says Corner, and Heaven Wide Web, elementary children complete a five-year curriculum of Bible studies.
“The early members of First Presbyterian Church, Thomasville, displayed Christian Devotion and purpose of a high order; they placed the church and its mission in the very forefront of their lives, their thinking, and their planning. They were no Saints but were men and women with average human frailties and shortcomings, but they left a priceless heritage in the foundations they laid for our church/ the church was always on the side of relevancy rather than retraction, of involvement rather than indifference, of concern rather than conformity.” This quote comes from Saints and Sinners, the church’s published history, which was written by Lillian Britt Heinson. Our church leadership today (Elders and Deacons) is composed of some members who are fourth and fifth generations FPC members and some members who are new to our community, our church, and the faith. Together these officers bring this same desire to lead and serve the congregation as we all “press towards the mark of the prize of the high calling of Jesus Christ.”
First Presbyterian Church, Thomasville, early on began their mission of reaching out to spread the Word of God. They began mission outreach programs to establish Dawes Presbyterian Church, Dillon Presbyterian Church, and Second Presbyterian Church, which today are churches on their own. Mission work was not limited to local outreach programs. In 1888, Session minutes show that the church gave $51.18 to foreign mission as well as $61.98 to local mission efforts. Under the leadership of the Rev. Bill Nearing and Elder Louie Porter, the church held its first Mission Conference in 1977 with a goal of $6,000. This mission work to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ has continued to grow. This past year, First Presbyterian Church raised over $213,000 for missions locally and around the world. Additionally, since 1992, numerous volunteer “teams” from our church have made mission trips to actively participate in mission work in various foreign fields. First Presbyterian Church is involved in spreading the WORD locally and beyond!
First Presbyterian Church reinstituted a mission to the Thomas County Jail in 1988 largely through the efforts of volunteer Rodney Cone, a Deacon at the time. Today, representatives from Thomasville First Presbyterian Church go weekly to conduct a Sunday School lesson at the jail as well as providing support for a full-time Chaplin for the jail inmates. Many other local outreach efforts have been initiated and supported by First Presbyterian Church. In 2011, the “Bibles and Breakfast” outreach program began to help feed our neighbors with a warm breakfast as well as the Word.
In February of 1927, it was recorded that the church services would be broadcast to the surrounding area by the local radio broadcasting station. Today, our 11:00 am Worship Service continues to be broadcast. Additionally, tapes and recorded copies of the Sunday sermons are always available for those who missed the service or who want to meditate further on the message.
In 1952, a weekday Kindergarten began under the leadership of Mrs. Nell Leach. Today, over 60 years later, this program has continued to grow to meet the educational needs of young children in our congregation as well as others within the community. Presently, classes are held for children ages one through four years old, and the program is under the direction of Elizabeth Mitchum, D.C.E.
Records indicate that from the beginning, a Sunday night service was held on and off. In 2009, an enthusiastic group created the Sunday @ Six church service was formed. This casual worship service is held in the Fellowship Hall and has continued to grow, reaching out to more and more people within the community.
The Music Program at First Presbyterian Church has always been an important part of the worship service. As stated in Saints and Sinners, “From the first organized service of worship of First Presbyterian Church, the work of the choir has been one of dedicated talent and effort on the part of all participants, whatever their talents or capacities.” First Presbyterian Church has been blessed with excellent organist and choral directors to provide leadership with music, which enhances the worship service to the Glory to God. In addition to the Chancel Choir, which leads the music at the morning worship, the Youth Choir and Children’s Choir also participate on occasions. With the addition of the Sunday @ Six Service, a Praise Band and Choir helps to lead that service.
Today, 125 years after the founding of First Presbyterian Church by the small group of seven people, the church continues to grow. The present active membership is just under 500. In October of 2013, First Presbyterian Church, Thomasville was formally accepted in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). The Elders and the congregation made this decision after two years of discernment. The congregation voted on this change from the PCUSA by an overwhelming majority. The church leaders and the congregation felt that this denomination mostly closely matched the beliefs and ideas of the organizers as well as the current members of First Presbyterian Church.
From this church’s beginning, we have been fortunate with outstanding leadership, a total of 24 ministers, have been called to our congregation. Our minister now is Dr. Tim Filston!
For more information on the history of First Presbyterian Church, Thomasville, please contact the church office for copies of Saints and Sinners, Volumes I and II.