First Presbyterian Church celebrates 125 years of faith, fellowship
by Jennifer Cohron
Aug 25, 2013 | 1224 views | 0 0 comments | 92 92 recommendations | email to a friend | print
First Presbyterian Church in Jasper is having its 125th anniversary homecoming service today at 11 a.m. A dinner on the grounds will immediately follow. The church was added to the Alabama Registry of Landmarks and Heritage in December 1983. The present sanctuary is the original building. Daily Mountain Eagle - Jennifer Cohron
First Presbyterian Church in Jasper is having its 125th anniversary homecoming service today at 11 a.m. A dinner on the grounds will immediately follow. The church was added to the Alabama Registry of Landmarks and Heritage in December 1983. The present sanctuary is the original building. Daily Mountain Eagle - Jennifer Cohron
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The small band of believers who organized the First Presbyterian Church in Jasper would likely still feel at home in today’s 125th anniversary homecoming service.

The trappings of many modern churches — large sanctuaries, booming sound systems, flashing lights, a plethora of programs — are noticeably absent.

The sanctuary is the original building erected in 1889. The room’s superior acoustics allow for sermons to be heard without the use of a microphone.

The pine pews fashioned at the sawmill owned by church founder Judge John Shields are still in use, although they have been refurbished.

“I remember as a very young girl, at my father's urging, trying to sit still on the wooden pews so my petticoat would not make noises,” said Pat Putman, the church’s organist and choir director. “I also remember that if you dropped your coin for the collection it would roll to the front because the floors were wood and the floor slants.”

Hymn books, another relic of the past in today’s church world, are scattered about the padded seats.

Light filters into the sanctuary through stained glassed windows, most of which bear the names of those singled out for exceptional service to the church. However, windows dedicated to brothers Strudwick and J. Marvin Pennington Jr. remember the ultimate sacrifice they made for their country while serving at sea during World War II.

Today after the hymns are sung and a simple yet enduring message is brought forth from the pulpit, the congregation will gather outside for an old-fashioned dinner on the grounds.

Fellowship has always been an integral part of First Presbyterian, according to elder and church treasurer Rusty Richardson.

Richardson was Baptist before he married Elizabeth Lum, a fourth generation church member, in 1993.

“When I would go to church with her, what I noticed more than anything is that it was always such a welcoming, warm and loving church. There’s a lot of love and dedication there,” Richardson said.

While the First Presbyterian congregation has never been large, it has certainly earned a reputation as faithful.

The church was formed in August 1888 with two members, John T. Sherer and Mrs. John B. Spear. Eleven more were added that October.

The group met in a nearby Baptist church until December 1889, when the first services were held at the newly-constructed First Presbyterian.

For one reason or another, many ministers came and went in the early years of the church.

The local flock was without a leader from August 1969 to October 1976.

During this same period, church members also became concerned about unrest occurring between liberal and conservative factions in the Presbyterian Church in the United States.

In 1975, the congregation voted to withdraw from PCUS and became part of the more conservative Presbyterian Church in America.

One year later, the church installed its first minister in seven years, Rev. James E. Barr, who oversaw a period of growth and revival.

In First Presbyterian’s 125th year, the congregation is made up of a healthy mix of old and new faces.

“We have people who have been faithful for 80 years, a passel of young children, and several families with 3 generations worshiping in the same church,” said pastor Scott Pierce, who has been at the church for eight years.

According to a recent church newsletter, 22 households are represented among the individuals who have joined the fellowship since 2005.

“It’s amazing how God works in our church. We have lost a lot of our older people over the last few years, but we’ve also had growth. Folks go away, but God replaces them with somebody else,” Rusty Richardson said.

Today new church members will have an opportunity to delve into First Presbyterian’s history by browsing a collection of photos and other artifacts set out in honor of the special occasion.

“After 125 years of preaching the Word of God, we are very excited about taking that same Word to every generation, every tribe, every tongue and every people group for another 125 years or until Jesus comes back,” Pierce said.