History

Witness on Market Street

A dynamic and exciting congregation, First & Central Presbyterian is continuing its heritage of centuries of mission and faithful witness, taking seriously the present and future challenges of ministry in the midst of the downtown community.

 

Read our Mission & Vision, here.

Above is the original First Presbyterian Church building (1740-1840), which was moved from Market Street (west of Rodney Square) to the banks of the Brandywine River in 1916. The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America further renovated the building in 1981, and maintains it today. We worship here once a year for our annual church picnic.

Our History

First & Central Presbyterian Church was formed in 1921 as the result of the the merging of First Presbyterian Church (founded in 1737) and Central Presbyterian Church (founded in 1855). The current building dates from 1929 (cornerstone above). First & Central’s centuries of history have seen times of flourishing ministry, as well as times of near extinction. The congregation’s heritage includes stories from significant periods:

  • During the Revolutionary War, the British used Old First Church as a hospital.

  • Throughout the 19th century, First Church oversaw the creation of several new churches in Wilmington, including Central Church, West Church, and Hanover Street Church.

  • In American Presbyterian history, First & Central experienced a major split as part of the schism in our denomination in 1936.

  • In local ecumenical history, for 20 years, First & Central hosted daily Roman Catholic masses sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, as well as interfaith worship and activities. 

  • In Wilmington’s history, First & Central played a major role in reconciliation efforts following the city’s race riots in 1968.

  • While many churches left the city for the suburbs in the 1960s and 1970s, First & Central elected to stay and remain committed to being a church of the city.

  • In 1977, First & Central joined four other congregations to form the Wilmington Presbyterian Cluster, whose purpose was to foster the presence of Presbyterians in the city, to serve the economically disadvantaged, and to resource the congregations to support its ministry. The Cluster sponsored summer worship services in Old First Church, joint services on Maundy Thursday and Christmas Eve, film festivals and an artist-in-residence program.

  • First & Central underwent a significant renovation of its sanctuary and building in 1995, expanding the chancel, reconfiguring the offices, and adding an elevator and ramps to make the building ADA-compliant. A further renovation in 2017 included creating the new back entry foyer, a completely restored kitchen (suitable for cooking classes), and reconfiguring the stage space of Memorial Hall to accommodate visiting mission groups.

  • In 2015, First & Central made Presbyterian history by hosting the first joint ordination of a lesbian couple, Holly and Kaci Clark-Porter. Holly and Kaci are now serving Grace Presbyterian in El Paso, Texas.

  • Throughout 2020 and 2021, First and Central will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of uniting two congregations!

 

More information about the history of First & Central can be found in Barbara Y. McEwing’s 1975 book, The Witness of Market Street: A History of the First and Central Presbyterian Church, 1737-1975.