In 1788, Adam and Elizabeth Peck left their home in southwest Virginia and traveled into Holston County in the state of Franklin.
In land now covered by Cherokee Lake, the Pecks established their farm. Elizabeth Peck, along with her twelve children, and some of the family slaves,
built a crude log cabin on the corner of what is now Westview Cemetery.
Named after its benefactor, Elizabeth’s Chapel stood as the first
Christian house of worship in the settlement. One of the Peck’s slave, known as Uncle John, was the first exhorter of the Word of God for these people gathered.
Thus began the organized practice of the Christian faith in this community.
The Organization of the Church
In the beginning of Mossy Creek, all the settlers worshiped together, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists, sharing this common worship space. The original records of the Presbyterian Church are lost and the whole story is not known. With the help of old documents and notes of former members, we know that the church was organized on October 19, 1867 with 49 members, 5 ruling elders, and 3 deacons.
Built on land from the estate of Colonel John Branner, the original resident of Glenmore Mansion, an article in the Knoxville Press and Herald recounts, “They began to build a house of worship and carried up the walls to the square of the house, but on the 17th of January 1871, just when they were ready to begin putting on the roof, a violent storm blew the walls down. Undismayed by the calamity the church went to work again with renewed energy and
burnt a kiln of 200,000 bricks in the summer of 1871 and before the close of the year had the walls up again, now much thicker and sturdier than before, and under roof. On December 16, the house was finished.” For 143 years, this sanctuary has stood as a representative of God in this community and is now the oldest standing sanctuary in Jefferson City. With gratitude to God, please join me this day in our Call to Worship.
First Presbyterian Church is Built
In the early years of Mossy Creek, the Presbyterians and the Methodists worshiped together at Elizabeth’s Chapel, until, in October of 1867 the Presbyterians organized their church at Mossy Creek with 49 members, 5 ruling elders, and 3 deacons. Within four years, the church built the sanctuary in which we now sit, with 200,000 bricks fired on our west lawn.
On December 16, 1871 the first worship service was held here, and the sermon delivered by the Rev. Dr. James Park, the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Knoxville and moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. Thus began the ministry of this body in this space. We continue their tradition of seeking after and following God even now.
History of Ministers at FPC
First Presbyterian Church has an interesting history of preachers in our pulpit. Our first pastor, the Rev. Joseph Hamilton Martin, left Mossy Creek after helping establish our church to travel through a war-torn South to become the new minister of the First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, Georgia. The Rev. J. Albert Wallace served as pastor from 1877-1879, leaving his post to travel to Bristol, Tennessee where he became the president of King College. From 1900-1903, Marvin MacFerrin served as pastor and lived with the Sizer-Moser family. They liked the pastor so much, they family named their son Marvin MacFerrin Moser after the preacher. The Rev. J.J. Douglass, a pastor here from 1926 to 1929, eventually settled in North Carolina, where we became poet laureate and authored the historical fiction novel, The Girdle of the Great: A Story of the New South. In the 1980s, the Rev. Dr. Keith Nickle left his position as professor of New Testament at Columbia Seminary in Atlanta to pastor at Mossy Creek, leaving in 1991 to be the academic dean of Pittsburgh Seminary. And in 1994, the Rev. Dr. Bob Reno was called as pastor of First Presbyterian Church, and he served here faithfully until 2002. Dr. Reno brought with him a background in English literature, having served as a professor at Michigan State University before attending seminary.
History of Music Ministry
Music has been a vital part of our ministry since the beginning. In our first days, music was played for worship on the pump organ, featured this morning for the prelude. For decades in the middle twentieth century Ms. Ruth Peck accompanied congregational singing at First Presbyterian on the piano and later the first electronic organ, installed around 1950. Following Ms. Peck, Karen Burchfield played the organ through the 1980s. In addition to congregational singing, FPC has featured many different choirs.
Mr. John Burgin was the first paid choir director in the church. Others include Ralph Moore, Mabel Smith, Ellen Queen, Red Hurney, Polly Lamberton, and Tom Stapleton supplying leadership in choral direction. Then, with a set of handbells and no one to director a choir, FPC hired Angie France, who soon assumed the duties of choir director and organist. For over twenty-five years, Angie has brought the scripture to life in music. In addition to the chancel choir, she conducts the children and youth handbell choir and the adult handbell choir, and each Sunday music from the Zimmer and Sons organ installed in the 1990s lifts us to the presence of God. We give thanks for all the saints who have served to glorify God in song!
First Presbyterian Church has always been a faithful congregation to the larger Church. As a part of the Holston Presbytery, members have served on a variety of committees and as representatives to larger councils. Mrs. Sarah Sanders was instrumental in the early days of the Holston Presbytery Camp and Conference Center, with the rocking porch attached to Guenther Lodge now bearing her name. Current elder Pat Patton has also faithfully served on the camp board for several years.
Additionally, First Presbyterian Church’s ruling elders have represented Holston Presbytery at two General Assembly meetings. Mr. Jim Zirkle was a commissioner to the 1958 assembly and Mr. Hugh J. Moser served as a commissioner to the assembly in 1982.
Throughout our history, members have shared their gifts for the mission and ministry of First Presbyterian Church. Mr. Philip Lamberton used his woodworking skills to create several items we still use in worship. In 1966, he carved the chalice and plate that adorn our communion table.
In 1972, carved from a walnut tree that stood on the church grounds, he contributed the cross that still hangs as the central focal point of our sanctuary.
And in 1992, using the wood from the maple tree that was taken down from the lawn in front of the sanctuary, he carved our two offering plates. It is said that Mr. Lamberton made the plates extra deep in hopes of encouraging generous giving among the members in FPC.
In gratitude to all those who have shared their gifts and resources with this church, let us present our tithes and offerings to the Lord.
In 1997, elders Jama Seahorn and Pat Patton proposed an art project that would both remind our congregation of the great stories of our faith and provide some practical help to blocking intense morning sun shining through our church windows. A group of women, particularly Debby Rinehart and Anne Smith, began this project, which was finally completed for the sanctuary in 2008. The first banner begun was the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand, and the final banner with the central image of the Holy Spirit as a dove descending in to the Word of God completed the project. We give thanks for these banners as reminders of God’s grace and care for us, bringing a “sweet, sweet spirit” to this place.
Passing Down of Faith
For generations, children, youth, and adults have gathered to study God’s word together. In the first days, classes for children were held in the rooms directly behind the sanctuary. There are even memories of a Sunday where those rooms were closed and children met with their teacher Mrs. Fain in the backseat of the stretch limousine that belonged to Mr. Cort Rankin. With the addition of the education wing in the late 1940s, children and adults moved
into new classrooms.
Today we have studies during the week, at the church, at restaurants, in homes. We use new teaching models and technologies, but even though our locations and our styles change, our study continues to be in an effort to learn more fully that first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “What is the chief end of man?” “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”