First organized in 1823, First Presbyterian Church (FPC) was the second church in what was then known as “Sumterville.” With a long history of reaching out and spreading the Word of God, FPC was instrumental in establishing four new churches in the Sumter area; this tradition continues through numerous outreach and service projects. FPC was a part of starting Sumter United Ministries, the local Habitat for Humanity chapter, the Emergency Shelter, Covenant Place and more. As we look to the future, we have our hearts and minds turned towards the Spirit of God for guidance as we continue to welcome all, care for all and reach out to a world in need.
Although the new church did not have a building of its own during its first seven years, regular services were held in the Baptist church on those Sundays when the Baptists were not having service. In 1830 the first church building was completed. Dr. Donald McQueen led the congregation for 42 years from 1837 to 1879. As the membership approached 100, a second building was built in 1858.
In 1880, Dr. Nicholas William Edmunds became our pastor and served for 25 years. He was the great-grandfather of Samuel (Cricket) Edmunds who is a life-long member of this church. During his compassionate pastorate, 404 members were added to the church rolls.
The present church sanctuary was built and dedicated on November 10, 1907, under the leadership of Dr. J. P. Marion. By that time, the membership had grown to 650.
Dr. John Miller Wells became pastor in 1923 until 1943 and was instrumental in helping establish four new outpost churches. His belief was that “if people would not come to the church, the church must go to them.” Those outpost churches were Fraser Presbyterian, Lemira Presbyterian, Pitts Memorial Presbyterian (now Swan Lake Presbyterian), and Holy Cross Presbyterian on Miller Road.
Dr. Lewis Holladay Lancaster was called as a temporary supply pastor. He was in Sumter as our minister from 1943 until 1946. At that time he returned to China to resume his work as a missionary.
Dr. Richard R. Potter came to the church in 1946. Under his leadership, the First Presbyterian Preschool began and continues to be a successful school in Sumter. In addition, extensive renovations were undertaken on the sanctuary of the church. The front steps were redesigned; the stained glass window, a new organ, and new carpeting were installed; the red brick exterior was painted white.
Succeeding Dr. Potter was Dr. Cliff McLeod who served at First Presbyterian from 1951 until his retirement in 1978. During his ministry, in 1957, the Education Building and the Earle Rowland Memorial Chapel were erected. In 1969, an elevator and the archway connecting the Education Building and the Sanctuary were added. By 1973, the church membership was 1,174.
In 1980, the church called Dr. Jefferson Aiken. He carried the church through the reuniting of the northern and southern Presbyterian churches. The physical plant of the church underwent significant changes in the late 1980s. As written by Fred and Betty Brogdon,
“During his 12 years as pastor, the church increased in numbers to 1200 and also extended its service to the community. With a strong emphasis on stewardship, the church launched a two million dollar campaign to install a new Shantz organ and renovate the existing sanctuary. A porte-cochere was added on the Calhoun Street side of the building and the sanctuary was extended. The interior changes included additional pews, a higher pulpit, marble flooring, and the remodeling of the area underneath the sanctuary.”
Dr. Aiken and Associate Minister Rev. George Jacobs led our church into numerous outreach and service projects. First Presbyterian played a major part in the creation of United Ministries, Covenant Place, and Samaritan House. In addition, our members participated in the building of numerous Habitat for Humanity homes. During this time, the Congregational Retreat began for families to gather at the beach for Bible study and fellowship. This tradition very successfully continues today. In 1995, our church pledged $40,000 to help build a sanctuary on North Main Street for New Covenant Presbyterian Church, a newly relocated African-American Presbyterian Church.
Dr. Ed McLeod was called to our church in 1995. He was instrumental in establishing the Disciple Bible Study. In addition, Dr. McLeod brought an increased emphasis on youth ministry with the completion of the West Youth Center in 1997 which was made possible by the generous donation of the Allen West family. The construction of the overpass connecting the second floor of the educational building with the sanctuary allowed for handicapped access to the second floor. Dr. McLeod initiated an international missions program that has sent youth mission groups to Mexico. Our first class of Stephen Ministers was trained in 2001-2002, and our church is proud to have been a Stephen Ministry congregation for 16 years. Then in 2002, the Presbyterian Women brought the Cinderella Project to our church; the program has assisted more than 200 women select prom dresses in its first 15 years.
In 2006, Dr. Mark Durrett began his ministry at First Presbyterian as a true teacher and Bible scholar. During his time here, Dr. Durrett led several Bible studies for Christian believers to live the Christian Life. First Presbyterian continued its mission “to know Christ and make Him known by living faithfully, worshiping joyfully, and serving gladly” by expanding our mission trips and ministry for youth and adults to Costa Rica and other locations in the United States. Dr. Durrett and his wife Angie were an integral part of our music program and worked toward improving and expanding our music ministry.
After Dr. Durrett left in 2012, First Presbyterian was led by Associate Minister Janie McElwee-Smith and interim pastors until the Reverend Nicholas Cheek was hired in August of 2016.
First Presbyterian has programs for all ages. Our preschool continues to be successful. Our children’s ministry brings God’s Word to life so even our youngest disciples can make a difference. Our youth group (grades 6-12) is active throughout the year with Bible study, fellowship, and mission endeavors. Presbyterian Men and Presbyterian Women have regular programs, circles, and Bible studies.
We are thrilled to have you all here with us to journey together in this life of ministry and service for our Lord Jesus Christ. There’s a place for you here at First Presbyterian and we warmly welcome you to our family.