Members of First Presbyterian Church of Statesville like to point out that the city grew up around the church. Origins are bound up with Scotch-Irish migration into the Piedmont of North Carolina in the mid-1700s. Early settlers to the area began to worship together as early as 1753, perhaps even before 1750. The Rev. John Thompson, the first minister to preach at “stands” nearby, and other missionaries were sent by the Synod of New York and Philadelphia. Gravestones in the Fourth Creek Burying Ground, across West End Avenue from the church (where the first church, a log house, may have stood), yield dates that support such conjectures. Early settlement and development of congregational life were hindered by the uncertainties of the French and Indian War (1756-63). Upon the end of the war the Fourth Creek Congregation was organized in 1764, in response to “A Remonstrance to the North Carolina [Orange] Presbytery,” which declared that members “have been congregated upwards of twenty years” and that the place of worship “hath been fixed this sixteen or seventeen years.” The Rev. James Hall, a son of the nascent congregation, was installed as first pastor in 1778. One of eight Presbyterian ministers in North Carolina at that time, Hall also served Concord and Bethany churches. While at the Fourth Creek Congregation, Hall served during the Revolution as captain and chaplain of the local militia. On one occasion he found it necessary to cut a sermon short because the militia he led had to contest British General Cornwallis and his troops, who were crossing the Catawba River into the area. Division among leaders over revivalism, the heritage of the Old Side-New Side controversy among Presbyterians, meant the church had no regular minister from 1803 until 1823.
The church's home at 125 North Meeting Street is its fifth building; the first two, before 1863, were log houses; the third was the first brick church. The church organized an academy for girls, which became in 1855 Concord Female College, later Mitchell College, a community college of the state system since 1959.
In those first decades of the church’s life “the long prayer” at Sabbath worship typically lasted an hour, while sermons were two hours long. Tokens (some still existing) were required for communion admission. The sacrament was served at tables across the front of the church; members would come forward by groups to be served. Session records from the mid-1800s reveal an active practice of church discipline; a member was censured for profane language and “improper remarks about [a] sermon” against dancing and dancing parties. Records also tell of members who died in the Civil War in the service of the Confederacy; some are buried across the street in the Fourth Creek Burying Ground. Yet the church built its first brick edifice (1863) and grew during this period, from 173 to 243 members, of whom as many as 44 were African-American communicants (by 1868 these had joined churches independent of former slaveholders). Some elders opposed the formation of a separate denomination for Southern Presbyterians after the war. In 1875 the church officially adopted the name First Presbyterian Church, by which the Synod of North Carolina already knew it.
Under the leadership of long-time pastor Dr. Charles Raynal, the present sanctuary, delayed by World War I was built, its cornerstone laid in 1924. The first service held here was in 1925. Neill McGeachy was pastor from 1945 until 1969. A new education building, built in 1965, was named for him upon his retirement.
Layton Mauzé, pastor from 1971 until 1981, helped the church focus in new ways on ministry in the community. The church and its leaders have taken crucial roles in beginning and supporting mission agencies, including Yokefellow, Jubilee House, now Fifth Street Ministries, King's Grant retirement center, Elder Center, and Habitat for Humanity. Members continue to serve as civic leaders. In 1972 women were elected to office and ordained for the first time. The Living in Faith class, a ministry with developmentally disabled adults, involves its members fully in the life of the congregation. Grant Sharp served as pastor from 1982 until 1996. In 1983 the church hosted a meeting of Concord Presbytery, at which a historic vote in favor of church reunion took place.
Stephen W. Scott became pastor of First Presbyterian Church in 1998. A Two Hundred Fiftieth Anniversary celebration in 2003 featured as a mission project development of a Habitat for Humanity sub-division, Fourth Creek Village, where a number of houses have been built, one by our church and its members, others to which they have contributed funds and labor. In recent years leaders of the church took key roles in developing a new mission agency, Iredell Christian Ministries, the church and members contributing to its successful capital campaign. A generous gift last year made possible the renovation and augmentation of the 1925 Casavant organ. Under the leadership of Director of Christian Education Wes Pitts, youth last year spent a week at Taizé. Mission trips, some intergenerational, have gone to Oklahoma, New Jersey, and Eastern North Carolina. Ruling elder David Parker served as moderator of Salem Presbytery and stood as a candidate for co-moderator of the General Assembly of the PCUSA. Steve Scott continues to serve as presbytery moderator.
Sources: "A History of Old Fourth Creek Congregation" (1989 revision of 1964 bicentennial brochure); Henry Middleton Raynal, Old Fourth Creek Congregation: The Story of the First Presbyterian Church, Statesville, 1964-1989 (1995).