First Presbyterian Church

First Presbyterian Church of Waco is one of McLennan County’s oldest Protestant congregations, formed several years before Waco’s incorporation as a city.

On April 20, 1855, a group of Presbyterians in Waco Village petitioned the Central Texas Presbytery for permission to organize a local church. After receiving permission, the first nineteen members of First Presbyterian of McLennan County began to meet in a Methodist and Episcopal shared building on South Second Street.

Church members banded together to finance the construction of their own place of worship in 1870, spending $5,500 to construct a small brick church at the corner of Second Street and Jackson Avenue. The congregation soon outgrew this small building and purchased a lot on Austin Avenue in 1882. That same year on April 25, the church called Dr. Samuel A. King to serve as its first permanent pastor. Workers completed construction on the church in 1884.

As the congregation continued to rapidly expand toward the end of the nineteenth century, the church became increasingly focused on community service in addition to serving as a worship center. A choir was organized by the late 1880s, as well as a Women’s Working Society, which later became the Woman’s Auxiliary. Church members pursued local mission work while continuing to collect money in support of foreign missionary efforts.  

By the time of the installation of Rev. Charles T. Caldwell as pastor on September 27, 1903, it was clear that the church needed to expand once again. After initial construction plans came to a halt when the Waco Street Railway Company announced intentions to lay tracks near the location for the new building in May of 1911, the church sold the lot for a profit and purchased new property at the corner of Austin Avenue and Eleventh Street. Church leaders contracted Fell & Ainsworth Construction of Waco to construct an English Gothic-style church designed by F. M. Mann. Dr. King returned to preach at the inaugural service on April 14, 1912.

Although the church continued to rapidly expand and develop, change was on the horizon. As World War I brought an increased military presence to Waco, First Presbyterian members sought to provide soldiers with a “home away from home” through prayer services, social events, and charity drives. Later, just months after the church executed an elaborate two-day celebration of its Diamond Jubilee in 1930, the effects of the 1929 stock market crash began to be seen around Waco. In order to conserve resources, Rev. Caldwell cut his own salary and reduced the church’s expenditures.

The turmoil of the mid-twentieth century proved First Presbyterian’s commitment to what members described as “sympathetic Christian charity.” During World War II, the church once again opened its doors to support Waco’s military population. Congregants also sent supplies to aid efforts of hospitals and the Red Cross between 1941 and 1945. The church served as the Red Cross headquarters for six weeks during the early stages of Waco’s recovery from the devastating 1953 tornado. Individual members’ contributions continued to support efforts in Waco such as Meals on Wheels, the Family Abuse Center, and the support of a Vietnamese refugee family. In 1971, First Presbyterian became the official home of Caritas, an interfaith agency for the poor.

On November 17, 1991, the congregation voted to borrow $1.4 million for its “First into the Twenty-First” campaign, which funded a much needed renovation of the church and the construction of extra wings for religious education. The church launched a yearlong celebration of its vast history in 2004, culminating in the sesquicentennial day on April 20, 2005. Today, First Presbyterian Church of Waco works to meet the spiritual, social, and practical needs of the community through its commitment to Christian charity.

Images

Rooted in Community

Rooted in Community

Organized in 1855 before Waco’s incorporation as a city, First Presbyterian quickly became an integral part of the community. For more than 150 years, the congregation has served the social, spiritual, and practical needs of the Waco community. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Rapid Growth

Rapid Growth

The speed with which First Presbyterian outgrew its first two official worship centers serves as a testament to its growing importance within the community in the late nineteenth century. The congregation outgrew this second church, built in 1884 and located at Eighth Street and Austin Avenue, by 1911. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Gothic-Style Church

Gothic-Style Church

The church appointed a committee of six men and four women to oversee the construction of a new church in 1911. The committee then contracted University of Illinois Professor F. M. Mann to design an English Gothic-style structure. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

(First Presbyterian, ca. 1914)

(First Presbyterian, ca. 1914)

The committee overseeing the church’s construction decreed that its “elaborateness [was] not to be exceled by an ecclesiastical structure in Texas” and that it must also be equipped with “every modern convenience.” | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Jacob's Well

Jacob's Well

This stained glass window at First Presbyterian depicts Jesus’s meeting with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in John 4:4-15. Beautiful depictions such as this were featured in each of the three churches in which First Presbyterian was housed throughout its history. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Waco Tribune-Herald View File Details Page

Rooted in History

Rooted in History

First Presbyterian promoted the congregation as “rooted in history – looking to the future” in Waco Tribune-Herald advertisements. The church demonstrated its appreciation for its storied history with a dramatic representation at its centennial in 1955. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

125 Years of Service

125 Years of Service

Members of the congregation marched through the city of Waco from First Presbyterian’s first home at Second Street and Jackson Avenue, to its second location at Eighth Street and Austin Avenue, and finishing at its current location at Eleventh Street and Austin Avenue in order to commemorate the church’s 125th year of service in Waco.  | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Paul Currier View File Details Page

Constant Growth and Change

Constant Growth and Change

To meet the needs of the growing congregation, the church was renovated and new buildings were added several times during the twentieth century. These additions were funded by member pledges as well as by sources such as the proceeds from a book of Rev. John’s sermons which were published in a book titled All Are Chosen. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Female Leadership

Female Leadership

The first choir at First Presbyterian was established by the late 1880s alongside the Women’s Working Society during a period in which the Presbyterian church worked to develop more leadership roles for women. First Presbyterian Church of Waco called its first full time female minister in 1984. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

A Growing Ministry

A Growing Ministry

In 2012, First Presbyterian celebrated the centennial of its current sanctuary. The church continues to meet the needs of its growing congregation through worship services and a commitment to congregational life. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Audio

Providing Relief After the Tornado of 1953

Evelyn Chance explains how the First Presbyterian Church helped feed the community hot food after the tornado of 1953. | Source: Chance, Evelyn, interviewed by Jaclyn Lee Jeffrey, November 11, 1980, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Amanda Sawyer, “First Presbyterian Church,” Waco History, accessed July 22, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/84.

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