FPC has an illustrious history. In 2012, we celebrated our Bicentennial. The Presbyterian Church in the City of Richmond was organized on June 18, 1812 with fourteen members and two ruling elders. Dr. John Holt Rice was installed as its first pastor on October 19 of that year in the new church building on the south side of Main Street, between 27th and 28th Streets.
In 1816 its name was changed to First Presbyterian Church, and it moved to a new site on the south side of Main Street, between 17th and 18th Streets.
We encourage you to read Footprints of the Saints: A Narrative History of First Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Virginia, 1812-2012, a rich history of FPC with many vintage pictures. Copies are available in the church library. See these videos too.
Symbols in our Sanctuary
Worship was first celebrated in our current sanctuary on September 17, 1950. The symbols carved into the lectern, pulpit, and chancel railings represent Christ, the apostles, and Paul.
Peter: The crossed keys represent the Lord’s gift to Peter of “the keys of the kingdom.” The inverted cross indicates the manner of his death, his request to be crucified upside down.
Matthew: The symbol of the ax superimposed on a moneybag refers to St. Matthew’s original calling as a tax collector and to his death, which was crucifixion on a Tau cross, then decapitation.
Simon: Two fish superimposed on a saw represents St. Simon the Zealot, who was one of the great fishers of men. He met his death in Ethiopia by being sawed asunder.
Chancel rail (lectern side)
Philip: A basket with loaves of bread and the Tau cross represents St. Phillip who was tested when asked by Jesus how they could feed the 5,000 gathered to hear Jesus. He suffered martyrdom by stoning and then crucifixion on a Tau cross.
Matthias: An open Bible and double-bladed battle-ax represent St. Matthias, who was chosen by the original apostles to take the place of Judas Iscariot. He was a passionate missionary who was stoned and beheaded after his missionary work in Judea.
Jude: A sailboat, whose prow is a slender, inverted cross, represents St. Jude, who traveled extensively with St. Matthias on missionary journeys.
James the Lesser: A windmill represents this second son of Alphaeus, but there is no published reason for this representation, as the windmill was not introduced to Europe until 1000 A.D. He may have been confused with St. James the Greater who lived and died in Spain at a time when there were windmills.
Chancel rail (pulpit side)
Bartholomew: The fig tree represents St. Bartholomew, also called Nathaniel. When introduced to Jesus by Philip, Jesus responded that he had already seen him before under a fig tree. He was flayed alive, crucified, and then beheaded for winning the king of Armenia to Christianity.
James the Greater: Three scallop shells with their narrow ends pointed up and a cross-hilted sword represent St. James. As a crusader, he picked up scallop shells along the coast of Jerusalem as proof of having been to the Holy Land, and the shells became a symbol of courage and pilgrimage. The sword represents his beheading.
Andrew: The saltire (a cross with its arm crossed like the letter ‘x’ ) with an anchor superimposed designates the patron saint of Christian Russia and Scotland, St. Andrew, who had been a fisherman. Andrew died on such a cross.
Jesus Christ: The phoenix that returned to life out of death is symbolic of the resurrection and eternal life offered to all through Jesus Christ.
John: A chalice with an entwined serpent represents St. John, the beloved apostle who a priest tried to poison, but John made the sign of the cross and the poison left the chalice in the form of a serpent. John was the only apostle who died a natural death.
Paul: At the bottom of the pulpit, we see the last of the apostles to whom Christ appeared. The serpent of Melita came out of the fire and attached itself to Paul’s arm. Paul was unharmed and this miracle became his symbol.
One apostle, Thomas, was omitted. The omission of a symbol for St. Thomas is unexplained.
On June 18, 1812, Hanover Presbytery organized the first Presbyterian church in Richmond, “The Presbyterian Church of Richmond” with fourteen members. Dr. John Holt Rice was installed as first pastor on October 19th in the new church building on the south side of Main Street between 27th and 28th Streets.
After changing its name to “First Presbyterian Church,” the church moved to a new site on the south side of Main Street between 17th and 18th Streets.
Dr. Rice recognized the importance of women in the church and organized “The Young Women’s Bible Society of Richmond.”
To accommodate growth and the “westbound migration” of the city, First Presbyterian Church made its second move to Franklin Street between 13th and 14th Streets. A group of members organized New Bethel Presbyterian Church (renamed Third Presbyterian in 1850).
Sunday School was organized.
75 members organized Second Presbyterian Church.
When Richmond experienced “explosive” population growth, First Presbyterian Church moved for the third time to a location on Capital and 10th Streets, just opposite the Capitol. Its steeple was 160 feet in height, making it “an invitation to all who saw it.”
The first pipe organ was introduced into worship at First Presbyterian Church. Designed and built by the Henry Erben Organ Company of New York, it was considered “among the best of the era.”
As the Civil War consumed the city, First Presbyterian’s congregation and pastor provided food, shelter, and comfort to the wounded, refugees, and soldiers, both Confederate and Union, in both the Church and their homes.
The church building was disassembled, moved west again to Madison and Grace Streets, and reconstructed.
Eightieth Anniversary Celebration. Membership, 525.
Pew rentals were discontinued as the primary source of funding for the Church. An “Every Member Canvas” approach was adopted, allowing individual members to “do their part” in the work of the Kingdom.
Centennial Celebration. Membership, 470. Sunday School, 229.
The “First Presbyterian Church Presbyterian Women” was established, though initially named “The Women’s Auxiliary of the First Presbyterian Church.”
To continue the support of Christian education, a new annex was constructed. Sunday School membership exceeded 650.
125th Anniversary Celebration. Membership, 691.
The present church site at Cary Street Road and Locke Lane was purchased, preparing the way westward for First Presbyterian Church.
The new Education building was designed to accommodate the future sanctuary connection, completed at Cary Street Road.
Enlistment for WWII started with 67 members ultimately serving.
The 39er’s Sunday School class was organized.
The present Sanctuary building was completed with the first worship service celebrated on September 17th. Construction costs were approximately $350,000, with numerous planned amenities including air conditioning being deferred to avoid cost overruns.
First full-time Minister of Music employed.
Additions added to the Educational building, including the kitchen, and an expanded Fellowship
Kindergarten Day School established.
First Director of Christian Education employed. Sanctuary was air-conditioned. Membership, 1350.
First Carson Memorial Lecture Series presented. Covenant Sunday School class started.
Dr. John Trotti begins 45 year tenure as “teacher” of the Covenant Class.
First women ordained as elder and deacon.
Men’s Service Group established.
Funds were raised to sponsor Gayton Kirk as a new church. Membership, 1514.
Building expansion was approved to add 22,300 sq. ft. and refurbish the educational unit and chapel.
First Presbyterian Church joined with nine other Richmond churches in creating CARITAS. The first guests were hosted in January of 1987.
175th Anniversary Celebration. New Parrish Hall was dedicated on Palm Sunday, April 12, 1987.
The new Andover sanctuary organ and Appleton chapel organ were dedicated. The Memorial Garden was designed and dedicated. The Freedom House feeding program was initiated. The Shepherd’s Center’s “Open University” was located at First Presbyterian Church on Thursday mornings.
Soviet Peace Fund members visit First Presbyterian Church. A youth delegation traveled to Bluefields, Nicaragua.
The Sanctuary was refurbished for the first time since 1950. Nine members visited Nicaragua on a mission trip. The church sponsored the resettlement of a Bosnian family in Richmond.
Disciple Bible Study and Stephen Ministry programs were initiated. Dialogue and partnership with Metropolitan African American Church was started. Mosby School mentoring program established.
First Presbyterian Church and four other Presbyterian churches joined together to build a Habitat for Humanity house. Mission outreach continued with visits from both Bluefields, Nicaragua and Minsk, Belarus delegations.
The “Faith in Action” campaign raised a record $3,075,000. One half of the capital raised was dedicated to nine benevolences and the other half was dedicated to necessary physical improvements throughout the church. Partnership established with George Mason Elementary School.
Final plans were approved for the addition of a “contemporary worship service.”
Clean Water mission program started with the first trip to Bluefields, Nicaragua.
200th Anniversary celebration. First Presbyterian Church “Serve Day” established with 200 members volunteering to “serve” across the city on fourteen worthy projects on Sunday, April 29th.
Session approved the establishment of a Bus Ministry to provide transportation to worship for members in retirement communities.
The Diaconate evolved from an administrative board to a Compassionate Care Ministry of the church.