Our History

First Presbyterian Church’s heritage, history and growth have been intertwined with that of Lynchburg for over 200 years.  Our church was founded in 1815 (some 29 years after Lynchburg was established in 1786) and has served its congregation and the Lynchburg community in four different church locations throughout those years and will into the future.

As one of the oldest churches in Lynchburg we are grateful to have had the opportunity to provide a constant spiritual and educational influence in the Lynchburg community.  A growing and transforming congregation has led in fostering new churches in the community as well as being leaders in education through the Weekday School and other educational opportunities.

The First Church

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The First Church

Installed Pastor:

  • Rev. Dr.William S. Reid (1822-1849)

In 1813 Dr. William S. Reid began the work of the church through meeting with members of the community in their homes.  The beliefs and convictions of this group culminated in forming a new church, First Presbyterian Church on March 20, 1815.  Dr. Reid was appointed pastor at an annual salary of $300!  At this time the congregation numbered 15, including two infants.

Perspective: When the church was founded, James Madison was the 4th President of the United States and Ludwig von Beethoven had just premiered his Symphony No. 8 at age 45.

The Second Church

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The Second ChurchThe 2nd First Presbyterian Church fronting on Main Street in Lynchburg.

Note the absence of a steeple!  The building was dedicated in 1858 and serviced our congregation for almost 41 years.

Installed Pastors:

  • Rev. Dr. C.R. Vaughan (1849-1858)
  • Rev. Dr. Jas. B. Ramsey (1858-1870)
  • Rev. Dr. E.H. Barnett (1870)
  • Rev. Dr. Richard Mc Ilwaine (1870-1872)
  • Rev. Dr. William T. Hall (1872-1896)

In 1854 a severe storm badly damaged the steeple of the original building requiring the construction of a new building.  Then Pastor, Dr. Vaughan contemplated building the new church on the southeast corner of Church and 11th Streets, but property title difficulties caused the new church to be constructed on Main Street.

Perspective: During this period James Buchanan was our 15th President.  As well, Abraham Lincoln and Stephan Douglas had conducted the first of their famous debates and Theodore Roosevelt was born. 

The Third Church

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The Third Church3rd First Presbyterian Church at 9th and Court Streets

Certainly the steeple is prominent here! 

Installed Pastors:

  • Rev. F.T. McFaden (1896-1904)
  • Rev. Dr. Jas. D. Paxton (1904-1930)
  • Rev. Dr. F. Campbell Symonds (1931-1937)
  • Rev. Dr. Russell C. Stroup (1938-1950)

By the early 1880’s the congregation had grown considerably.   By 1898 the congregation numbered 405 members and services were crowded at times. As well, the congregation was growing quickly – between 1896 and 1897 fifty-one members were added, an increase of 13%.

Perhaps more significantly, by this time a large portion of the congregation now lived south of Main Street, putting them farther from the 1858 church. Dr. Hall, Pastor at the time, noted in 1892: “The growth of the city has been steadily away from the location, increasing the disadvantages every year... We are moving now to get a position where we will be as convenient as possible to the whole congregation.”

So, the cornerstone for the new (3rd building) was laid on July 5, 1899 at 9th and Court Streets.  Between the sale of old property and contributions, the entire $49,000 was underwritten.

A new wing was added to the church in 1941 to house its Sunday schools and other community education programs.  When the property was transferred to the City of Lynchburg in 1998, these spaces would be and still are utilized by the Lynchburg Police Department.

During the World Wars of the 20th century, 57 men (7%) of the congregation would serve in the armed forces during World War I.  113 men and women would serve during World War II, 16% of the congregation at the time.

Dr. Russell C. Stroup, requested leave of absence in 1942 in order to join the Chaplains Corps. He would serve in the 6th Infantry Division in the South Pacific and the Philippines, receiving the Bronze Star for heroism in action at Luzon. He would return to the congregation in 1945.

Perspective: In 1900 William McKinley was the 25th President.  The Lynchburg Foundry was established, the US went on the gold standard and three local colleges were founded: Randolph–Macon Woman's College (1891), Sweet Briar College, (1902) and Lynchburg College, (1903).

The Fourth Church

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The Fourth ChurchThe 4th First Presbyterian Church                                                   

1215 VES Road, Lynchburg in 1952

Installed Pastors:

  • Rev. Dr. Emmett B. McGukin (1950-1967)
  • Rev. Dr. S. Albert Newman (1965-1966)
  • Rev. Herbert B. Barks (1967-1971)
  • Rev. Robert A. Helstrom (1970-1976)
  • Rev. Jerold D. Shetler (1971-1975)
  • Rev. Edward K. Beckes (1974-1977)
  • Rev. Timothy L. Croft (1976-1978)
  • Rev. Bernard K. Bangley (1977-1980)
  • Rev. Dr. John R. Killinger, Jr.
  • Rev. Dr. Robert H. Bullock, Jr. (1981-1983)
  • Rev. John H. Thompson
  • Rev. Dr. Richard Harbison (1987-1997)
  • Rev. Dr. Walter R. Smith (1989-2006)
  • Rev. Dr. James J.H. Price
  • Rev. Arthur F. Fogartie (1998-2001)
  • Rev. L. Tyler Downing (2001-2005)
  • Rev. Dr. John M. Scholer (2002-2014)
  • Rev. Meggan Means Farwell (2007-2012)
  • Rev. Peter A. Thompson (2016- Present)

As automobiles came into common use in the 1930s and 1940s congregants increasingly moved to homes in the suburbs. By 1948 it was evident to members of the Session that the church would need to move.

“ . . . Seventy percent of our active membership now resides in the Rivermont-Peakland area.  Eighty percent of our Sunday School and eighty seven percent of our cradle role babies come from this section (of town).  “Since a church is a congregation rather than a building, we are already located in Peakland and it only remains for us to establish our physical facilities where our actual church is.”

The church building was completed 1952 at a total cost of $490,000.  Services began on September 6th of that year conducted by Dr. Emmett McGukin in the new Sanctuary designed to hold 494 people. Dr. McGukin delivered the first sermon titled “The Things Our Fathers Dedicated”.  Dr. Stroup would be present for the service and would also deliver a series of vesper services that month.                               

When the 3rd First Presbyterian Church building on Court Street building was sold to the First Methodist Church, the contract of sale explicitly authorized First Presbyterian to remove five memorial windows and move them to the VES Road church.  Three of the windows are installed in rear Narthex wall, one is installed in the front wall of the Chapel and the 5th installed in the rear wall of the Sanctuary over the antiphonal organ.

Plans for the new Sanctuary included installing new stained glass windows on both sidewalls.  Funds were raised and the Sanctuary features stained glass windows depicting important events in Biblical history.  To learn more about the Stained Glass windows at FPC CLICK HERE (link to facilities page or directly to pdf).

The growth of the Church School, Young People, Men of the Church, Women of the Church, Week-day School, and other church organizations resulted in this 1999 church addition that continues to provide our Fellowship Hall, kitchen facilities and a number of classrooms.

Expansion and growth continued with the “Our Time To Grow” campaign in the 1990s.  Included were an expansion of Fellowship Hall, expansion of the Narthex and the addition of our Columbarium Garden.

Our Mission

Celebrating God’s grace, Inspiring the next generation for Christ… each and every day!!!

Contact Us

1215 V.E.S. Road, Lynchburg, VA 24503

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