First Presbyterian Church of Tallahassee
By Rebecca Rinell, Fall 2015
The First Presbyterian Church is much more to the community than just a religious institution. First Presbyterian Church, located at 110 N Adams St. in Tallahassee, FL, is a historical location that is also the oldest public building in Tallahassee. First Presbyterian Church members gathered in 1832 and in 1835 construction began on the church building seen there today. It may seem to have changed bit-by-bit throughout the five modifications over the years, the architecture and original structure has been preserved, as seen in the photos collected. The First Presbyterian Church has been a refuge for all members of the community during difficult times, it has laid ground for various community outreach centers, and it has been a classroom for many generations of children, teens, and adults, as well as being a religious sanctuary for all who attend services.
In order to fully appreciate the history behind the doors of the First Presbyterian Church building, it is important to recall the various wars that took place around the Tallahassee area since the church’s construction in 1835. When the church was built, at the height of the Seminole Wars, the building was meant as a refuge for the women and children in the area to take shelter when the men left to defend the town. Although it is not clearly visible today, there are still reinforced walls built into the church from those days along with many bullet holes and rifle slots. The First Presbyterian Church has been a safe place spiritually and physically to the community since its creation.
One of the fundamental goals of the First Presbyterian Church is the education of members. Immediately after the completion of the church, Sunday school was created for the younger members of the community. Members of the church hoped to educate the younger generation of church members in order to keep the belief of God and the goals of the church alive for several generations to come. Clearly they succeeded as the First Presbyterian Church is still standing today and consistently has several hundred members in attendance for service. Many of the children in Sunday school programs grew up to be active church members who enroll their children as well. An education building was also added on to the original church in 1951 to expand the program to teenagers as well as adults. Education is still a primary goal of the First Presbyterian Church as evident by their various classes as well as a year-round preschool program for children between the ages of two and five.
Not only was education of children a fundamental goal of the church, but members also reached out to the local college. First Presbyterian Church collaborated with the Florida State College for Women, which was founded in 1851 and later converted into the Florida State University in 1909. The church hosted various events for students to help ease the transition into college as well as encourage their interest in God. Many events took place on the lake and surrounding area which is now known as the FSU Reservation, more commonly the “Rez”. There were camps, excursions, kayaking adventures, and various other opportunities hosted by the church for the students. Pastors and church staff were actively involved in the lives and activities of the students and the church continues to have strong ties to the Florida State student body.
First Presbyterian Church has always had a focus on helping the community, which is evident by their help in forming the Tallahassee branch of Habitat for Humanity as well as The Shelter of Leon county, both of which act to help those less fortunate in the community or those struck by disaster. During the 1800’s when slavery still persisted throughout the United States, it was very uncommon for churches to allow slaves into services with non-slaves. However, the First Presbyterian Church was one of the only church institutions in the Tallahassee area to allow slaves into membership. Additionally, women were also allowed full membership and many clubs and communities comprising of women, such as the Tallahassee Women’s club, have held meetings and events at the church. Finally, the First Presbyterian Church also began partnering with anti-human trafficking enforcement and rehabilitation. Even when it was unconventional at the time, the First Presbyterian Church has led the way in reaching out to all members of the community, which was one of the reasons that it was such a successful institution and has lasted throughout the years with such a large congregation.
In addition to local community involvement, the First Presbyterian Church has taken an active role in environmentally conscious sustainability. In 2009, the church created a campaign called “Light from Light”. This campaign added solar panels to the church roof and began producing energy, making the First Presbyterian Church the first religious institution in Tallahassee to decrease its environmental footprint and become partially energy sustainable. Along with this program, many church groups and volunteers host clean-ups to limit pollution in the environment as well.
In conjunction with the outpouring of community support, there is even more support among church members. There are several ministry teams such as care and outreach, compassion and social justice, care and action, spiritual formation, support, and worship. Within the First Presbyterian Church there are countless ways to get involved to learn about God as well as help your fellow human and build long-lasting relationships.
Since the First Presbyterian Church was founded, church services have been conducted every Sunday. There have been some modifications to the sanctuary, such as the addition of a church organ, but the original structure and layout is still the same as it was in the 1830’s. There are currently several hundred members of the church and a regular attendance of over two hundred people. The church has always been known for its progressive theological and social perspective and they continue to support all persons regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, or age. First Presbyterian Church is more than just a place for members to learn and worship in the name of God, but a community center that has been focused on helping the fellow human for close to two hundred years.