We believe First Presbyterian is the oldest Protestant congregation in continuous service west of the Mississippi, and the church’s rich history is deeply rooted in the fight for social justice. Storied clergyman Salmon Giddings organized the church in 1817 with 10 charter members. Ten years later, Elijah Parrish Lovejoy came to St. Louis and joined First Pres. He was encouraged to go to seminary and he eventually did study at Princeton, becoming a minister. An ardent abolitionist, Lovejoy established a newspaper in Alton, Illinois, and in 1837 died defending his press and the fight against slavery.
During the 19th century our church grew, but each time the congregation reached 200 people, the pastor set about commissioning another church. Pastor Giddings launched seven other churches during his long tenure.
The congregation survived a cholera epidemic as well as the Civil War, when the church flew the Union flag from its tower in a predominately Confederate city. The Rev. Henry Nelson declared an anti-slavery position from the pulpit and several slave-holding families left the church. Later, the Rev. R. Calvin Dobson served for 30 years until 1957 and espoused a civil rights doctrine.
First Pres has been housed in four different buildings, and now resides in its current home in University City, MO, built in 1927. Many excellent pastors have been called to First Pres and all have stayed at least 10 years with the congregation. Our current pastor, Bill Perman, came to First Pres in 2010.
Many members of First Pres have been inspired to become ministers, beginning with Elijah Lovejoy and including as many as 10 members in the past 20 years.