Our RootsFounded July 1831
1837 – 1847
First Presbyterian Church of Fort Wayne
Founded in 1831
First Presbyterian Church is the oldest, continuing congregation in Fort Wayne. Founded in 1831 when Fort Wayne was still a frontier town, its history parallels the growth and development of Indiana’s second largest city and the larger social, cultural and religious landscape. Always a city church, First Presbyterian has occupied five permanent quarters. In its first structure, 1837-1852, First Presbyterian surmounted the effects of the depression of 1837, clergy turnover (three ministers in its first decade), and the controversy between Old Side and New Side Presbyterians (it aligned with the Old Side). And even though growth warranted laying a cornerstone for the second church building in 1847, inadequate contributions, a recurring issue, delayed timely completion of this imposing addition to the Fort Wayne scene. The third church building, occupied in 1864, was an enlargement and extensive renovation of the second building. In a short period, Fort Wayne had grown to more than 9,000, and First Presbyterian’s growth justified doubling its capacity to 640. A devastating fire in 1882 left the congregation homeless until the education wing of its fourth church building was completed in 1885, and the sanctuary with space for 750 worshipers, in 1886. The fifth and current church building was completed in stages between 1954 and 1967. An extensive study that answered the question how to adapt ministry to the new opportunities and limitations imposed by a modern city became the basis for a complex that would be the center for a seven-day-a-week ministry to the parish, the neighborhood, and the Fort Wayne community. Membership increased from 1,100 in 1950 to about 3,600 in 1970. The revitalization and increased influence that First Presbyterian experienced lasted a generation and beyond.
From its beginnings, First Presbyterian attracted pastoral and lay leaders who believed that Christian witness extended beyond the fellowship of the membership to concern for the welfare of others and to advocacy of social reform. The founding pastor was a temperance advocate. Another early pastor was a courageous antislavery advocate. In the 1840s and 1850s, First Presbyterian founded elementary and high schools because the public system was underdeveloped. Later in the century it founded two new Presbyterian congregations. In 1871, the women organized the Missionary Society to support international missions. The congregation has never wavered in its community consciousness and world awareness. In recent decades, it has created programs as diverse as the West Central Ministry (an inner-city social service ministry), the Samaritan Counseling Center, a prison ministry, a Korean Language Ministry, a Stephen Ministry, a preschool and, subsequently, a Day School program, and Everyone a neighbor Day, a program that attracts unemployed and homeless persons.
Besides its widespread witness, First Presbyterian has a longstanding tradition of ministry via the arts. It is traceable to the appointment of a paid choir director in 1839, and the installation of a reed organ, a frontier novelty, in 1845. Music in worship continues to be a priority. As part of the mid-twentieth century plan for an expanded ministry to the community, First Presbyterian began a recital and concert series, initiated a national organ play contest, and constructed a 330-seat theater with lobby doubling as an art gallery. The gallery hosts a series of exhibits and the theater presents a season of plays. First Presbyterian believes that the arts are a window to the soul.
First Presbyterian is a smaller congregation today with membership under 900. It still draws its membership from the four corners of Allen County, delivers its ministries from its location in the center of Fort Wayne, responds with innovation to parish and community needs, and ministers to the world through its substantial commitment to missions of evangelism, justice, health, and education with and without Presbyterian auspices. Our mission is transforming lives through the love of Jesus Christ.
1955 – Present