First Presbyterian Church of Hattiesburg
First Presbyterian Church was organized on March 5, 1882, at McDonald Mill, a small community about seven miles northeast of present day Hattiesburg. 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 was followed by Dr. E. J. Currie as pastor. With Dr. Currie, the church grew and was able to build its first building on Main Street (at the site of the current Hattiesburg Cultural Center). That white clapboard structure with twin spires served the congregation for thirty-six years until the church relocated 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. After Bay Street Church 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 he 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 as moderator of the Synod of Mississippi. For thirty-five years, he was a pastor not only to members of First Presbyterian Church but to the citizens of Hattiesburg. It was under his leadership that the congregation moved to 840 North Main Street, where it would worship from 1929 until 1990.
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. Mr. Stanway was vital in helping 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 first met at Thames Elementary School). He was also instrumental in working with church elders in leading 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 fresh season of growth. By the late 1980’s, the sanctuary on North Main became inadequate for the church’s needs. Dr. Taylor and the church’s leadership believed that the future growth of Hattiesburg would be to the west, and so, in an act of faith, the congregation constructed new facilities on Hardy Street.
Today, First Presbyterian Church is near the geographical center of the Hattiesburg metro area on a 16-acre campus. 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.
After Dr. Silman left to serve a congregation in North Carolina, our church called Dr. Sean Michael Lucas in 2009. Previously a professor and administrator at Covenant Theological Seminary, Dr. Lucas oversaw the expansion of our physical plant (with the construction of Currie Hall and McIntosh Hall) as well as the God-given growth of our congregation. In 2016, Dr. Lucas accepted a call to the Independent Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tennessee.
Our current senior minister, Rev. Jim McCarthy, is a native Floridian and graduate of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He previously served Westminster Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, Florida, prior to accepting the call to First Church, Hattiesburg, in 2018.
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