Tim Tinsley, Sr. PastorFirst Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga has a fascinating history of serving the Lord for 175 years. Recently honored by the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, it was noted that this service was through the Civil War, World Wars, the Great Depression, many Presidents…good times and bad…but always faithful service. I hope you become inspired, as I have been, by all the faithful servants of the Lord that worshiped, sacrificed and served through First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga.

It is humbling and an honor to be able to participate in a meaningful way with the continuing accomplishments of this great “Body of Christ.”

Rev. Tim Tinsley, Senior Pastor

In His Grip


 Humble Beginnings, Log Cabin Mission Support, 2 Buildings & 7 Pastors

Brainerd MissionFirst Presbyterian Church has been spreading the good news of Christ in Chattanooga almost as long as the Bible has been read here. The oldest Chattanooga congregation of any kind that can cite a specific founding date, First Presbyterian traces its genesis to June 21, 1840.

On that Sunday of long ago, two men who had served at the Brainerd Mission to the Cherokee Indians east of town before the Indian removal in 1838 organized the Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga.

 

1840-1862: Humble Beginnings (Continued)

The first offering was given for missionary support, marking the beginning of what continues as a very important ministry at the church. Today, First Presbyterian’s 1,000 members annually give over $1 million to missions projects and partially support 113 partners (60 units) and 7 church planting partnerships representing 52 global cities, 33 countries, and 6 continents (2016).

But the church’s beginnings were quite humble. According to church member David Cooper’s book, Catalyst For Christ, a detailed history of the church written in 1990, the church’s first worship services were held in a log cabin near Fifth and Lookout streets. It was a small and simple building, but the church was on its way to laying a strong foundation for ministry in the community.

The church’s first building designed and used specifically for worship was built in 1845 on the west side of Walnut Street near Third Street. As a Christian gesture of goodwill, First Presbyterian allowed other denominations to worship there as well. That building served the church until the mid-1850s, when a new building was erected at the northeast corner of Seventh and Market streets.

From 1840-61, First Presbyterian had six pastors. Its seventh, the Rev. Thomas Hooke McCallie, began serving in 1862.


Civil War, Pastors: Mr. McCallie & Dr. Bachman, Georgia Ave. Building

Georgia Ave. Building

Georgia Ave. Building

Its seventh Pastor, the Rev. Thomas Hooke McCallie, began serving in 1862. Not long after the Civil War broke out, the church literally found itself in the middle of the fighting. When the Union Army began occupying Chattanooga in 1863, the church’s brick worship facility was stripped for a Union hospital.

The church had not lost its desire to continue worshiping during the trying time, so it began meeting at the now-razed McCallie family home at the northeast corner of Lindsay Street and McCallie Avenue, a building that in the 1890s was used as the original location of Baylor School.  Citing poor health and exhaustion, Mr. McCallie, who had two sons who founded McCallie School and a daughter who was a founder of Girls Preparatory School, stepped down as minister in 1873.

1862-1910: McCallie/Bachman, Georgia Ave. Building (Continued)

But the church as a whole was in good spiritual health, and continued to grow and prosper after the appointment of Dr. Jonathan Waverly Bachman (portrait) as successor to Mr. McCallie. The first of three First Presbyterian senior pastors to serve more than 30 years in the pulpit, Dr. Bachman was a native Tennessean and former Confederate Army chaplain. By the time Dr. Bachman had assumed the reins, First Presbyterian had taken on its current name. It was originally called Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, but after Second Presbyterian Church was formed in 1871, it became First Presbyterian.

With a new name, the church soon found a new home. In the 1880s, a new worship facility was built at the southwest corner of Georgia Avenue and Seventh Street. But the church continued in its old and faithful adherence to Bible scripture, Christian outreach to the community and support for missions.


Current McCallie Building: A Chattanooga Architectural Treasure

FPCC mid 1940s

The Georgia Avenue building would serve the church ably until 1910, when the current worship facility was opened. The design for the present church building had come from the famous New York architect Stanford White’s plans for Madison Square Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. A local architect was hired to adapt the late Mr. White’s plans to the site alongside McCallie Avenue.

 

 

 

1910: Current Building: A Chattanooga Treasure by Famous Architect (Continued)

To be provided.


 

Facility Expansion, New Pastors: Dr. Venable & Dr. Fowle, Radio Broadcast

Dr. James L. Fowle

Dr. James L. Fowle

After the worship facility was built, a new educational wing was added in 1926, a fellowship hall and other improvements were completed in the mid-1960s and the former Medical Arts building was bought and incorporated into the church’s physical plant in 1981.

Dr. Bachman, whose son, Nathan, served as a U.S. senator from Tennessee, served the church admirably until 1924, when he was succeeded by Dr. Joseph Glass Venable. Dr. Venable preached the first service on local radio. It is believed to be the longest continuing radio program in the United States.

 

 

1910-1967: Expansion, 2 New Pastors, Radio (Continued)

After Dr. Venable’s untimely death only four years later at the age of 51, Dr. James L. Fowle was called as the 10th minister in April 1929. A former North Carolinian, the 31-year-old Dr. Fowle had previously served as pastor at Central Presbyterian Church in St. Louis for more than 5 years before coming to First Presbyterian.

A founder of the Chattanooga Bible Institute and its longtime director,  was noted for raising funds for many Christian, civic and educational causes. He served First Presbyterian until 1967, when he chose to retire on the occasion of his 70th birthday. Following a search that had been taking place for several months before Dr. Fowle’s retirement, the church called Ben Haden as its 11th pastor.


The Ben Haden Era with Glenn Draper 

Mr. Ben Hayden

Mr. Ben Hayden

Following a search that had been taking place for several months before Dr. Fowle’s retirement, the church called Ben Haden as its 11th pastor.  Mr. Haden, a former Kingsport, Tenn., newspaperman who had made a midlife acceptance of Christ as his personal savior, had been serving as pastor at Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church near Miami, Fla. He was already familiar to many First Presbyterian Church members for his Philadelphia-based radio program, ‘Bible Study Hour.’  A man with a genuine gift for delivering sermons, Mr. Haden quickly enamored himself to the First Presbyterian congregation. His popularity and ability to draw worshipers soon resulted in closed-circuit television being set up in the chapel and then the fellowship hall for overflow worshipers.

 

1967-1999: The Ben Haden Era with Glenn Draper (Continued)

Not long after coming to First Presbyterian, Mr. Haden launched his own radio ministry, ‘Changed Lives,’ on radio station WFLI in Chattanooga. He had grown physically weary of flying to Philadelphia twice a month for the ‘Bible Study Hour’ programs and felt his radio ministry could best be served in Chattanooga.  The ministry — which Mr. Haden operated independently of the church — eventually grew to include a television ministry as well. Among its thousands of regular watchers over the years was the Rev. Billy Graham.

Another major ministry enhanced not long after Mr. Haden’s arrival was the choir under Glenn Draper, who was hired as Director of Music in 1968. Mr. Draper had previously been music director at Coral Gables United Methodist Church and choral director at the University of Miami. He had also founded the Lake Junaluska Singers in the 1950s.

In 1974, First Presbyterian voted by a 90-percent margin to break away from the Presbyterian Church in the United States denomination with which it had been affiliated for many years. It became part of the new Presbyterian Church in America, which the church felt adhered more strictly to the principles set forth in the Bible and was a strong missionary-sending body.

In September 1998, after 31 years as senior pastor, Mr. Haden announced he would step down from the First Presbyterian pulpit as of March 31, 1999, and devote his full energies to ‘Changed Lives.’ A 12-member committee was chosen to search for his successor.


Dr. Milton

In September 1998, after 31 years as senior pastor when Mr. Haden announced he would step down from the First Presbyterian pulpit, a 12-member committee was chosen to search for his successor. The exhaustive process lasted for three years. A five member staff ably carried on and even expanded the church program during that time. Moderator Lea Clower was assisted by Jim Suddath, Joe Hishmeh, Phil Gagliardi, and Ken Camp.
On December 9, 2001, the congregation enthusiastically approved the search committee’s recommendation of Dr. Michael A. Milton to be the church’s 12th senior pastor. Dr. Milton was serving as founding pastor of Kirk O’ the Isles Presbyterian Church on Skidaway Island in Savannah, GA, which met in the chapel of the Bethesda School for Boys.

1999-2007: Dr. Milton (Continued)

Years earlier, well into a career in the chemical business, Dr. Milton had discovered the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. He and his wife, Mae, gave their lives to Christ. Dr. Milton grew in Christian service and subsequently felt called to the ministry. He finished undergraduate studies, then received his master’s in divinity from Knox Theological Seminary, and finally earned his doctorate in theology and religious studies at the University of Wales.

Dr. Milton became founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church and Westminster Academy Christian School in Overland Park, KS, from 1993-1997. He then held the post of acting president of Knox Seminary before starting Kirk O’ the Isles in 1998.

In December 2007, after six years as senior pastor, Dr. Milton announced that he had accepted the call to become president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. The church called Rev. Mike Preg to serve as the intentional interim pastor until 2010 when Rev. Tim Tinsley, from Dallas, Texas, was called and accepted the role of Senior Pastor.


2007-Present: Rev. Tim Tinsley

Tim Tinsley, Sr. PastorIn December 2007, after six years as senior pastor, Dr. Milton announced that he had accepted the call to become president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. The church called Rev. Mike Preg to serve as the intentional interim pastor until 2010 when Rev. Tim Tinsley, from Dallas, Texas, was called and accepted the role of Senior Pastor.

In April 2015 the Tennessee General Assembly unanimously passed SJR 0258, sponsored by Senator Bo Watson,  honoring First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga for 175 years of faithful service to our Lord and Savior. On Sunday, June 21,  Senator Watson honored FPCC by reminding the congregation all that had happened in “those 175 years” and reading the Resolution.