Special to the
On Dec. 11, First Presbyterian Church of Opelika will celebrate 150 years of the Lord’s faithfulness to the church. A special 150-year anniversary service led by the current pastors and several ministers from past years will be held from 3:30 – 4:30 p.m. Following the service there will be a reception from 4:30 – 6 p.m. During the reception, everyone is encouraged to visit designated areas of the church where members will be highlighting the past, present and future of First Presbyterian. The public is invited to attend.
First Presbyterian Church was originally known as the Presbyterian Church of Opelika. It was founded on Dec. 15, 1866, with the help of Rev. R. Nall and Joseph Grier, pastor and ruling elder from New Harmony Presbyterian Church near Waverly.
Four couples who became charter members of the new church had requested the East Alabama Presbytery to establish a church in Opelika. These were John G. and Martha Smith, Joseph and Elisa Phillips, Givens and Jane Dunbar, and R.S. and Louisa Mclelland.
Despite having no regular or called minister, the church held services with the help of the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Montgomery, the Reverend George H. W. Petrie. He was assisted by his son, the Reverend George Laurens Petrie, the Reverend G.R. Foster of Evangelist East Alabama Presbytery, and the Reverend R. Nall of New Harmony Church. Most of the inaugural meetings of the First Presbyterian Church of Opelika were held in the First Baptist Church of Opelika. The first new member, Mrs. Ann Kennedy, was received into the church on Aug. 8, 1869.
First Presbyterian has been in its current location on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 9th Street for 145 years. The lot was purchased for $125 in 1871. Soon thereafter, construction began on the first sanctuary, described as a clapboard building with a bell steeple, surrounded by a picket fence. Construction of the first church cost $1,881. A Sunday School annex was added in 1903. In 1913, the original church which faced Tallapoosa Street (North Ninth Street) was turned to face Calhoun (Second Avenue). That same year, towers were added and the exterior was brick veneered. Through the years, there have been several expansions: a manse and fellowship hall that now connect to the original sanctuary, and more recently the new sanctuary completed in 2013.
The church called its first pastor in October 1871. The early session minutes contain the following entry: a “unanimous call to the Reverend Claudius Augustus Baker for his full time to the Opelika Church at a salary of $1,000 per annum to officiate as pastor.” Baker remained as pastor until his death in 1893. Living relatives of Reverend Baker include the Joe Deans, Kathy Dean Gafford and Roberta Greene.
More than 21 pastors have served the church since Reverend Baker. The longest pastorates at the church were under the Reverend Baker, the Rev. A.C. Windham and Rev. Jim Bankhead, each of whom served for over 20 years.
In 1899, the church was 33 years old. It was incorporated and had a new name, First Presbyterian Church of Opelika. Originally, the church was a member of the Presbyterian Church, U.S. By 1973, this denomination was heading toward union with the United Presbyterian Church, USA. Ten years later, the merger was finalized and First Presbyterian Church of Opelika became part of the Presbyterian Church, USA. In 2008, the church began its affiliation with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a denomination with which the congregation was more theologically aligned. The EPC was founded in 1981 by a group of pastors and elders coming from the mainline Presbyterian denominations who had grown concerned about the drift of the church towards theological liberalism. The motto of the denomination is “in essentials – unity, in non-essentials – liberty, in all things – charity.” This motto reflects the characteristics of the denomination that attracted First Presbyterian Church of Opelika. The EPC affirms the fact that there are certain essential truths about which the Bible is very clear, which are not up for debate or questioning.
Since joining the EPC, the church has seen rapid growth. A new sanctuary adjacent to the original church was built in 2013 to accommodate the growing membership. The congregation recently gave its approval to begin a building campaign to raise funds for a children’s educational wing. The new building will extend from the present sanctuary and be located on the lot behind the fellowship hall.
Joanne Smith T, a long-time member at First Presbyterian, said that despite the expansions, the church’s mission has not changed.
“Recent growth has brought many changes, but the First Presbyterian Church of Opelika maintains its primary mission to preach the Gospel and share the love of God,” Smith T said.
The current pastor, Reverend Noah Kiser, echoed those sentiments.
“To know the First Presbyterian story is to know a first-hand account of the truth of Lamentations 3:22-24 displayed in the life of a church family in Lee County, Ala. It is a story that confirms the steadfast love of Jesus and His never-ending faithfulness,” Kiser said.
In July 2015, the church called the Rev. Noah Kiser as senior pastor. Reverend Kiser received his master of divinity in 2010 from Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. Reverend Kiser joins Associate Pastor Robert Tansill, who has been at First Presbyterian since March 2013.
Regular worship services are held each Sunday at 8:15 and 10:45 a.m. Sunday School for adults and children begins at 9:45 a.m. During the summer and during school breaks, there is one service at 10:45 a.m. The church is located at 900 Second Ave.