For you have heard my vows, O God; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.
– Psalm 61:5
Our Beginnings: 1856 – 1900
First Presbyterian Church of Urbana was organized in 1856 with 29 members – at least seven of these founders coming from First Presbyterian Church of Champaign. Our first pastor was Isaac P. Stryker of Rome, New York. The church had no building, meeting in space borrowed from the Methodist or Baptist churches.
With few financial resources and many men off fighting, our congregation held no regular services during the Civil War. By 1866, however, members were in a position to erect a small frame Gothic Revival style sanctuary on Green Street, which was dedicated in 1867. We still have the original pulpit from this church.
In 1884, the women of the church formed the Women’s Home and Foreign Missionary Society, beginning our long history of mission support. In 1888, our first youth group was formed – the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor, based on the model developed in Maine by Rev. Francis E. Clark.
Growing into the 20th Century: 1900-1956
By 1900, growth of the town, the university, and membership made it clear that a larger church was needed. Dynamic minister George E. Hunt powered the congregation to raise $21,500, and a new Gothic brick church was built on the site of the old. Designed by prolific Midwest architect Joseph Royer, it was dedicated in 1902.
Amid the pressures of two world wars, in the first half of the century our church excelled in establishing programs including top-class music offerings and education for burgeoning numbers of children and youth. More building occurred, notably a manse funded through the efforts of the women’s Thimble Society, and in 1954 a Chapel-Education Building addition.
The church also developed further in reaching out, sponsoring missionary-educator Miriam Null in China for 29 years. Beginning in the late 1940’s, long-range planning spurred a resolve to find more ways to serve the local community. In 1948, a cooperative play group began in a house owned by the church. In 1956, we celebrated our 100th anniversary.
In 2005 we were presented with the Champaign-Urbana International Humanitarian Award, recognizing our combined local and international mission programs.
Mission: Community at Home and Beyond: 1956 – Today
A new sanctuary built in 1964 broke the Gothic precedent with its modernist Scandinavian stave design. Our mission also rose to the times with members and pastors involved in the civil rights movement, and with the use of our facilities by Head Start in beginning in 1965, and other child care and education programs continuing on. Our partnership with the Korean Church of Champaign-Urbana began in 1974 with their use of our chapel for worship.
Mission to the African country of Malawi was inspired in the early 1990’s by our contact with the Illinois-based Marion Medical Mission which was already involved in improving water quality through shallow wells; and also by a Malawian family who joined the church. Since 1997, we have sent seven groups there to help and learn, with a major emphasis on shallow wells.
A more recent project, the Twice Is Nice thrift shop, located in a Royer-designed house behind the church on Elm St., gives half its proceeds to local mission agencies, and uses the other half to maintain the historic structure.
With God’s help, the First Presbyterian Church of Urbana will continue into the twenty-first century as a church faithful to its past; enthusiastic in its present worship, fellowship and mission; and excited about its future.