A 175-Year Legacy of Hope

by Mark Hertzberg

Chapter:  Equity - The Challenges of Inclusiveness


Equity in society has been part of First Presbyterian’s fabric from its early days. First Presbyterian is more than a building where people gather for weekly worship. The church lives as the congregation follows the example of Jesus Christ in the community. In the words of Georgia Hall, a long-time member of the congregation, “We are God’s hands and feet in the world.”  Indeed, Pastor Ben often reminds parishioners, “We don’t go to church; we are the church.”

The church points to its abolitionist history with pride. The church’s ethnic make-up has always been European-American, not African-American. Not all the early members were abolitionists, but Sylvester B. Peck and others in the congregation took a strong stand against slavery.

Mirroring American society, the congregation gave less consideration to gender equality than to racial equality until late in the Twentieth Century. Although Almira Wells, a charter member, took an early lead in the spiritual growth of the church, women were not allowed to vote in church meetings until 1867. Another 100 years passed before women were allowed to serve as Elders.

More recently, as reflected in society-at-large, the church’s commitment to equity extends to welcoming gay and lesbian members of the congregation.

[1] Email to the author, April 14, 2014.

[2] Letter from Sylvester B. Peck to “Brethren,” 1891.