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History

A History of Service in Birmingham

 

Since 1872, First Presbyterian Church (FPC) has been a Home in the Heart of the City of Birmingham, Alabama. It was founded as the Old School Presbyterian Church in January of 1858, in what was then Elyton (and is now the west end of Birmingham). In 1872, the original wooden structure was dismantled and moved to the church's present site on the corner of 21st Street and Fourth Avenue North, becoming the first church building in the brand-new city of Birmingham. While early members of the church were few, it was not long before they felt led to step out in faith and build a new church within this new city. In 1888, a larger sanctuary was built to replace the smaller Old School Presbyterian Church building. In 1924, the thirty-seven-bell Rushton Memorial Carillon was the first such instrument installed in Birmingham and the third in the United States. It is played Sundays at noon and on special occasions. Though the church has been remodeled several times since 1872, we continue to worship in that very same space today.

Challenged by Growth and Change

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, FPC grew along with Birmingham. Following the Great Depression, though, hard times hit both the city and the church. In 1938, the congregation was encouraged to leave downtown and merge with a sister church in another part of the city, but they chose to stay. The congregation believed they were called to share and give witness to Christ’s presence in the Heart of the City—a belief that FPC continues to hold firmly today.

In the 1950s, both FPC and the city once more began to experience significant growth. It was during that time that our sanctuary’s stained-glass windows, which tell the story of Christ’s life and God’s covenant with God’s people, were installed. Yet a pivotal moment in the life of the FPC congregation was just over the horizon. In 1963, they found themselves caught up in the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, and this time of conflict did not leave the church untouched. Be it the Civil Rights Movement, the response to Birmingham’s homelessness crisis, or the fight for restrictions on payday lending, this church as always responded to the spiritual, civil, and basic needs of the people.

At that time, long-time pastor Dr. Edward V. Ramage was one of eight prominent clergy members who received Dr. Martin Luther King’s now-famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” defending the need for nonviolent resistance in response to racism and oppression. (These same eight had questioned his methods and urged moderation.) Dr. King’s words had a strong effect on Dr. Ramage, who took the controversial step of declaring that FPC would be a church open to all of God’s people, regardless of race. Though many members of congregation were opposed to this idea, and he would eventually lose his job because of it, Dr. Ramage refused to back down, and his vision was ultimately affirmed by the Session. The prophetic nature of this call continues to shape our mission and ministry today. In the decades that followed, both Birmingham and FPC experienced a return to hard times. As the downtown began to decline, so did FPC’s membership, and again the congregation was invited to leave its Home in the Heart of the City. Once more, a large number of congregants resisted, choosing instead to remain faithful to the call to share Christ’s presence in the Heart of the City.

A Bright Light for the City

Nearly a century and a half after the founding of both our church and our city, we remain on the very same corner of downtown Birmingham, and we continue to play an integral part in the life of this city. While that has meant different things at different times, the people of this place have, for generations, been willing to live out their faith in some exciting and daring ways. In the early days, this was evidenced through the building of the church and support of sister churches throughout the city. In more recent years, it has been demonstrated through the creation of ministries like the Rushton Child Development Center, First Light Shelter for Women and Children, Ruth and Naomi Senior Outreach, and Birmingham Faith in Action. We have also completed an extensive renovation of our historic building, and trust that God is preparing and shaping us for years of ministry to come.

Through our multitude of mission partners, First Presbyterian Church continues to minister with boldness and sacrifice to thousands of individuals and families in need throughout this great city.

As we move forward, we are challenged and energized by the future and our ongoing ministries. Downtown Birmingham is in the midst of urban revitalization, but the homeless and disenfranchised remain a part of our community and are woven into the rich tapestry of life in our city. Our call is to respond faithfully to, and be a bright light for, all parts of the diverse family of God.

Our Mission and Vision Continues

The "First Family" welcomes everyone, regardless of their race, class, gender, sexual orientation, or faith tradition. Above all, we strive to be a loving community of people who care about one another and who reach out to others by embodying the love of Christ in the world.

Preserving Our Historic Building

We recently completed an extensive renovation of our historic building, secure in the belief that God is preparing and shaping us for years of ministry to come.

THE FPC FOUNDATION

Over one hundred years after First Presbyterian Church was built in 1888, we began to build a Foundation to care for our historic, sacred space. The First Presbyterian Church (Birmingham) Foundation provides ongoing supplemental income to support the church in the maintenance and upkeep of its historic facility. Additionally, at least 10 percent of the annual annuity from the Foundation is designated for church mission projects selected by the Session.

For more information on contributing to the First Presbyterian Church Foundation, please email church@fpcbham.org.