First Presbyterian Church was organized on March 5, 1882, at McDonald Mill, which was a small community about seven miles northeast of present day Hattiesburg MS. Of course, this was two years before Hattiesburg was actually organized itself. The church was served for four years by Rev. H. C. Smith, who preached at First Church along with several other small churches in Perry and Jones Counties. During that time, the church changed its name to Bouie Presbyterian Church and held its worship services at the Methodist meeting house in Hattiesburg.
In 1886, the church voted to call Rev. J. M. Smith as its pastor. Smith was born in 1853 in Mt. Olive, Mississippi, received his training at Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, and served a small group of churches along with First Church for seven years. He would go on to service in Presbyterian churches in Texas. He was followed by Dr. E. J. Currie as pastor. With Dr. Currie, the church grew to the size that it was able to build its first building on main street on the site of the current Hattiesburg Cultural Center. That building, white clapboard with twin spires, served the congregation for thirty-six years until the church moved locations a few blocks north on Main Street. Dr. Currie was a remarkably talented man: an able preacher, a social organizer, and a passionate advocate of education. It was under his leadership that the church planted Petal Presbyterian Church in 1902 and Bay Street Presbyterian Church in 1906; when Bay Street was planted, our congregation took the name “The First Presbyterian Church.” Dr. Currie was also notable for serving as the first superintendent of schools in Hattiesburg and would eventually become president of Chickasaw College in 1918.
The minister who served First Church the longest was Dr. W. H. McIntosh, who came to our congregation in 1919. A winsome pastor and forthright defender of biblical truth, “Dr. Mac” was well-known and well-beloved throughout the city. He served in a number of denominational positions, including on the board of trustees of Southwestern University at Memphis and Columbia Theological Seminary and moderator of the Synod of Mississippi. For thirty-five years, he was a pastor not just to First Presbyterian Church, but to the city. It was under his leadership that the congregation moved to 840 North Main, where it would worship from 1929 until 1990. To this day, many in our congregation remember Dr. McIntosh.
Toward the end of Dr. McIntosh’s ministry, the church decided to hire an assistant minister. The church called a graduate of Bob Jones University and Westminster Theological Seminary, Rev. William J. Stanway, to be the assistant. When Dr. McIntosh passed away unexpectedly in 1954, “Mr. Stanway” became the pastor. Under his leadership, the church planted two churches, Westminster Presbyterian Church and Pineview Presbyterian Church. He was also vital in helping to found Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1966. Three years later, Stanway went to teach preaching at that seminary.
In 1970, Rev. Ed Johnson was called to serve as senior pastor at First Church. Formerly an assistant pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, where he served beside D. James Kennedy, Johnson was instrumental in the development of the Evangelism Explosion program. He came to Hattiesburg in order to implement that approach to evangelism and to seek the further growth of the church. While he was pastor, the church helped to plant Woodland Presbyterian Church on the “western edge” of town; they met at Thames Elementary School. He was also instrumental in working with the church’s elders to lead our congregation into the Presbyterian Church in America, a conservative Presbyterian denomination formed in 1973 that is “faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission.”
In 1982, Dr. L. Roy Taylor, a professor of preaching and practical theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, agreed to serve as senior pastor at First Church. Under Dr. Taylor’s ministry, the church experienced a new season of growth and energy; young leadership was taking hold among the deacons and elders; and the old sanctuary on North Main was inadequate to the church’s needs. And so, in 1990, the church moved to its current location at 4901 Hardy Street. In those days, west of I-59 was largely undeveloped, unincorporated land; the only thing out there was Wal-mart. But the church’s leadership knew that the future growth of Hattiesburg would be to the west and so, in a leap of faith, the congregation built a $5 million facility.
It was the right call. Today, First Presbyterian Church is near the geographical center of the Hattiesburg metro area on over 16 acres. Instrumental in leading the congregation to pay off the first buildings and to plan for the next phase of building was Dr. H. Andrew Silman, who served as pastor from 1994 until 2006. Under Dr. Silman’s direction, the church was able to sustain its ministry trajectory, acquire additional property behind our initial land, and reach out to the larger Hattiesburg community. Likewise, throughout the Taylor-Silman years, the church has provided leadership to the PCA with Dr. Taylor serving as the denomination’s stated clerk since 1994 and one of our ruling elders, Mr. Samuel J. Duncan, serving as moderator of the General Assembly in 1998; in addition, our ministers and elders have served on a range of denominational boards and committees and have served as moderators of our local presbytery.
After Dr. Silman left to serve a congregation in North Carolina, the church had a lengthy interim period before calling Dr. Sean Michael Lucas as its current pastor in 2009. Previously a professor and administrator at Covenant Theological Seminary, Dr. Lucas has overseen the recent expansion of our physical plant with the construction of Currie and McIntosh Halls as well as the rapid growth of our congregation. As we celebrate over 130 years of ministry in Hattiesburg, we are eager to see what the next chapters in that story might be.