The United Presbyterian congregation of Port Huron, Michigan was organized on August 19, 1868 with 22 members admitted.
Various halls were used the first several years for gathering and worship and in 1871 a church building was dedicated at the corner of Broad and Merchant Streets.
By 1887 it was decided to switch allegiances from the United Presbyterian Church and join the Presbyterian Church of the USA. This was, however, not a unanimous decision and feelings were strong on both sides. The church building, located on Broad Street, was the property of the United Presbyterian Church.
In 1895 the Rev. Abiathar Beamer was chosen from a large group of candidates and was installed as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. The current building was built during the first year of his pastorate. Because of dissension in the church in 1898, Presbytery decided to have all new elders elected and to use supply ministers for a year. Rev. Thomas Monteith returned and was put in charge of the congregation in late 1898. He was to endeavor to seek relief from the financial distress into which the congregation had drifted. He did get a release from foreclosure and the church became self-supporting. In 1911, Rev. Monteith died of typhoid.
Rev. Hugh McCarroll began his work in Port Huron in November 1911 and resigned in 1914. The Rev. Ralph Crissman DD Phd, came late in 1914. In 1915, various loans had been reduced, and the church was rededicated. A manse was proposed for the adjoining property on 8th St. By 1918, membership had doubled, Sunday school had tripled and indebtedness had been completely removed. The choir loft was enlarged and a pipe organ was installed. Rev. Crissman resigned in 1922 and Rev. Schieck came later that year. He resigned after only one year.
In January 1924 Rev. Nicholas Sichterman was called and stability returned to the Church. As the nation struggled through the Great Depression, the Church passed through another era of financial difficulties. The bank accounts were near zero for many months as the Church endured these strains. In 1931 the first addition was proposed and pledges were sought to pay for it. By the time of World War II, mission support was given to Alma College and the War-time Service Commission. In 1948, Theodore Boice resigned after serving as Clerk of Session for 50 years. By the late 1940’s Dr. Sichterman’s health was declining and the Church was again experiencing financial difficulties. Dr. Sichterman retired as of January, 1950.
Rev. J. Alton Cressman was called in July 1949 and served for a longer period than any other pastor, retiring in December, 1977. In addition to his fine speaking skills, Rev. Cressman brought the Church a new emphasis on social awareness and missions. During his pastorate the Men’s Council and Women’s Association were organized. Members of the congregation, along with their pastor, helped to organize and provide leadership for the Port Huron Council of Churches, The Community Relations Board, The Family Service Agency, Visiting Nurses Association and the Mental Health Clinic. The Session and members of the church supported the Port Huron City Council in providing public housing and an open housing ordinance.
Rev. Cressman worked with Eagle Scouts and several received the God and Country Award. In 1956, following the action of General Assembly on the ordination of Women, our Church ordained its first woman Elder, Mrs. Oscar Cummings. Several young men were inspired to become ordained ministers. In 1965, the Mission Board invited the Cressmans to participate in a three month mission to the Philippines. With congregational support the Cressmans served in the Philippines and visited 26 other countries on their return trip.
Under Rev. Cressman’s leadership, the membership of the church leaped from a low of 527 in 1943 to a high of 934 in 1963. This was the impetus for building the Christian Education wing and having two services. By 1955, another mission, Lakeshore Church, was established. First Church supported this mission into the 1960’s. Rev. Gaylord Brunelle served as Associate Pastor from 1961 to 1967. When he retired, Mrs. Nell McLeod was hired to be the Director of Christian Education, a position she filled capably for 18 years. A major highlights during Rev. Cressman’s tenure includes the Madrigal Dinner Concert during the Christmas season when the fellowship hall was transformed into a medieval castle, the choir, dressed in period costumes, sang madrigals and carols, and the audience enjoyed good food and fellowship. Chu-Co was also an active adult fellowship group well-loved by the congregation and community.
Rev. Ronald Naylor was called in 1979 and began, along with the Session of the church, to trim the membership rolls to be more reflective of the congregation’s actual active membership. Pastoral calling became a priority during Rev. Naylor’s tenure, as was mediating and resolving many conflicted situations within the congregation in hopes of restoring greater overall health.
This was also a time in which the congregation became a more “hands on mission church,” venturing to Haiti for the congregation’s first international mission experience as it worked alongside doctors, dentists and others in clinics and orphanages. And building on this foreign mission experience, the congregation began to feed the hungry in its own neighborhood. What is now “Mid-City Nutrition” was born at 8th and Wall.
Youth Ministry continued to flourish under the direction of Nell McLeod, the Christian Education Director. And after six faithful years of ministry, Rev. Naylor resigned, paving the way for the next pastor, Rev. Dr. Mark P. Thomas.
Rev. Mark Thomas was called in 1986. Because the self-study had shown the need for an associate pastor, an immediate search was undertaken. This prompt search resulted in the hiring of Jill Denison. Later came Rev. Elizabeth Boone and then Rev. Margie Osborn. Ann Rossetti was hired as secretary and, continuing with the congregation’s commitment to both domestic and local mission and education, an Ecumenical Parish assistant, Chung Bae Byun from Korea, joined the ministry of First Presbyterian Church for six weeks.
The congregation continued to work actively to support mission programs near and far. The Soup Bowl, started in our church, quickly outgrew the church’s capacity to house the program, and transitioned to become Mid-City Nutrition—now at St. Martin’s Lutheran Church. The congregation founded the local Blue Water Habitat for Humanity and participated in the Jimmy Carter Work Project. And international adult mission trips went to Haiti, Costa Rica and Mexico.
New services added included Maundy Thursday, Ash Wednesday, Kirking of the Tartan, the service of Lessons and Carols, and the Hymn sing. Lenten potlucks with St. Andrews Church in Sarnia, Ontario continued and the service on the first Sunday of Advent, Watcher’s Eve, was introduced. Fellowship activities such as the church picnic and annual golf outing were introduced. Several enrichment weekends were held. The congregation aided in the development of Lake Huron Woods Presbyterian Village (in Fort Gratiot). And the congregation transitioned from a site for a Montessori School to providing the Kid’s Day Out program to meet a need in our community. As part of the 100th anniversary celebration, the congregation hosted the Westminster Choir College Choir. A major capital fund drive was held, continuing to pursue the vision of the congregation to eventually own the entire block.
Rev. Thomas and Rev. Osborn both resigned in 2005.
After the longest interim period in the church’s 125 year history, and with it a sharp decline in membership and participation in the life and ministry of the congregation, Rev. Jason E. Pittman was called as Pastor and Head of Staff in July of 2008. The following year Rev. Breanne Ryan (née Harmon) was called as Associate Pastor. Little did anyone know that this same period would see the “Great Recession” hit the country and economically devastate the Port Huron area.
Looking back to its efforts to minister to the people in their immediate sphere of influence in times of great need, the church reaffirmed its mission to ministries such as the Mid-City Food Nutrition program (the soup kitchen) and the Blue Water Area Food Depot, while also realizing its call to ecumenicity and working with Christian congregations across all denominational lines for the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God. Since 2008, partnerships have seen the foundation of the Blue Water Area Rescue Mission (BWARM), regular distributions of food to neighborhood residents through the mobile food pantry of the Southeastern Michigan Food Bank (“food trucks”), an emergency food pantry at the church for those who don’t qualify for the Food Depot, and area events to build relationships between churches and neighbors as well as address safety issues and criminal and drug-related concerns. Such events include the Neighborhood BBQ with St. John’s United Church of Christ, National Night Out with at least five other neighborhood congregations, and partnership with the Port Huron City Police Department for a community watch program.
Additionally, the establishment of “Miracle Marketplace,” an alternative gift market each November, has served as a “mission fair” of sorts, making space for area non-profit ministries to highlight their programs and gain support through the sharing of information and the sale of their goods. It continues to grow and gain notoriety throughout our community as a place where one can “Give a blessing and be a blessing.”
While local mission has been the main focus of the congregation in this most recent period, its dedication to Christ’s calling to the rest of world has not waned. Mission teams have been sent to aid disaster relief efforts across the country, youth teams have been sent to minister to other inner-city youth and experience—through Heifer International’s Global Village program—the struggles and successes of many peoples from around the world. Additionally, teams have continued to keep strong our mission endeavors, and support of missions, to LaGonave, Haiti as well as our ties to our sister congregation in Higuito, Costa Rica (Higuito-Iglesia-Jesús es el Camino).
Finally, this era of life and ministry after our Lord has seen the establishment of two programs that have reinvigorated Christian discipleship and worship: the addition of a “Beach service” during the summer months at Lighthouse Park and the mid-week, intergenerational program called “Oasis.” These events have truly set First Presbyterian Church in view as a congregation dedicated to being the body of Christ inside and outside of the walls of a building. The Beach Service has grown each year since its introduction and, with it, a new musical ensemble, “A Joyful Noise” has been born, periodically leading the congregation in modern Christian hymns, psalms and spiritual songs. And “Oasis” has seen new music ministry opportunities for children (and adults) as well as several new worship and education experiences for all ages, deepening discipleship, refreshing ministry, and paving the way for vital and vibrant ministry in the years ahead.
Our Church at 811 Wall Street
The trustees bought the lot at 8th and Wall from Jonas and Eleanor Allus in the spring of 1895. Work progressed rapidly to construct the Church. The building was designed by I. Erb Architect of Port Huron. Constructed of brick on a dressed stone foundation, the original building had curved amphitheater style seating, a slate roof, plaster walls and gas lighting. The building was dedicated Sept 15, 1895. There was some doubt as to the safety of the building; however, local building inspectors put fear to rest. Even in 1915, the sanctuary roof was problem. After withholding payments to the contractor, the roof was permanently fixed in August, 1915.
In the early 1930’s, funds were sought for an addition to the building. Property to the west had been bought in 1924. Built in 1931, the large addition includes what we know as the parlor, offices and the fellowship hall. The hall would provide additional space for Sunday School classes and large group meetings. At this same time the sanctuary was remodeled and redecorated. New lectern and altar table were installed along with a new lighting system. The organ and pipes were installed in a separate room. The amphitheater style seating was replaced by straight pews with two side aisles. Undertaking this large addition along with the economy of the times brought the Church back into debt. Telephone service was added in 1932 and almost discontinued because of the expense.
The 1950’s brought another addition to the Church. New choir seating was delivered in May 1951. The Session took out a loan of $10,000 to improve the existing building. They had the heating system converted to gas, improved the basement room and painted throughout. By the mid-50’s, the need for more space for Sunday School classrooms was evident. A consultant was hired and plans were made for what is called the Christian Education building. By 1957, $81,000 had been pledged for the addition.. Final plans were made in January 1958. Large rooms were designed for the primary department. The Sichterman room would be used for choir practice. The addition was dedicated January 25, 1959.
A capital fund drive was proposed in 1981. At this time, the offices were moved to the ground floor. The Session realized that many details of the building had not been maintained over the years as they should have been. At the completion of a successful capital fund campaign, other improvements were made to the building. Windows in the fellowship hall were replaced and the sanctuary was remodeled and redecorated. The pew arrangement was changed to achieve the center aisle. Air conditioning was installed in the sanctuary, office and fellowship hall. The kitchen was also upgraded to current standards. An elevator was installed in 1987 to make the sanctuary and the fellowship hall readily accessible to the elderly and handicapped. Recently, maintenance issues have been the roof, the north tower, the windows, the parking lot, the canopy for the Christian Ed building, and the sound and video system.
It is an ongoing effort to refurbish and maintain this building. Yet it is an effort we undertake with a profound sense of gratitude for those generations before us who have built upon the foundation of Christ Jesus.
Thomas W. Montieth – 3/15/1873
Thomas A. Scott – 2/1/1887
Abathiar Beamer – 2/5/1895
Thomas W. Montieth – 1/1/1899
Hugh McCarroll –11/1/1911
Ralph M Crissman – 9/6/1914
Samuel G. Schiek – 9/3/1922
Nicholas Sichterman – 3/2/1924
J. Alton Cressman – 7/12/1949
Ronald Naylor – 4/1/1979
Mark P. Thomas – 4/27/1986
Jason E. Pittman –7/1/2008 – present