A local church is preparing to celebrate a major anniversary.
On Nov. 3, the First Associate Reformed Presbyterian (ARP) Church of Statesville will observe its 150th anniversary.
Deacon Mark James of First ARP Church remembers stories from his family about the time of the construction of the current sanctuary — an upgrade required as membership grew in the church.
“While they were building this sanctuary … of course you have to tear the church that was there to build this one, so our church met in the Playhouse Theatre, which no longer exists … but those people my age know the Playhouse Theatre,” James said. “The Playhouse Theatre was huge, and it had a balcony.
“During the building of this sanctuary, the congregation met in the movie theater to have church for the whole duration of the church being built. I just remember that story and thought it was cool.”
James has worshipped with the First ARP for 29 years, starting with when he was a child to the age of 22 and returning seven years ago.
During his time as a youth at the church, James recalls the fun he would have in the sanctuary.
“Most of the time I was there, I was a kid … so it is like the old education wing was two stories and it was hollow in the middle. It’s like if you stood downstairs, there was like a 10-foot path that ran all the way around all the upstairs, but the whole center was open so you could stand downstairs and see the walkway all the way around … the one thing I remember about the old education wing is we kids would play hide-and-seek in it,” James said.
“Because it was such a fun place to play hide-and-seek because it was so big and so many rooms … which was fun.”
Throughout the years and the changes that have occurred one thing that has not changed is the services the church provides.
The church was organized Aug. 7, 1869, with founding elders R.R. White, A.M. Walker, George White and John Patterson.
Since 1869 the church has seen multiple changes, from different leadership to a change in infrastructure.
In the beginning, the newly organized church met in the courthouse temporarily and then met at another Presbyterian church for six years until the first building was developed.
In 1874, the construction of the building began on donated land from Col. J.S. Miller at the church’s current location. That building was destroyed by a cyclone in 1899, which led to the construction of the second building, which was ready in 1900. In 1923, a Sunday school building was added.
The congregation throughout this period remained strong and continued to grow.
A church bulletin from 1940 reported that the church membership in 1892 was 50 people and the Sunday school attendance was 40.
By 1940, those numbers had grown, as the church membership was 750 and the Sunday school enrollment was 418.
To accommodate the continued growth of the church, the current sanctuary was designed. It was built to seat and accommodate 675 people, with the construction also including a fellowship hall underneath the sanctuary.
The construction was completed in 1958, with the first service in the new building being held March 16, 1958. At the time, the project’s total cost was $288,034.68.
Now, the church is planning to celebrate all that has led to this point.
“We still have good services and the spirit is nice,” James said. “We love the church and it has been a part of Statesville since Statesville has existed pretty much.”
The church’s current pastor is the Rev. Phillip R. McCoy, who has been preaching at First ARP since 2012.
Prior to McCoy, there were several pastors, including Dr. Marshburn, Dr. Richard B. Leaptrott, Bob E. DeWitt, H.L. Patrick, J.H. Pressly, D.G. Caldwell, Robert Sherer, Dr. Charles Steele and W.B. Pressly.
The church will be celebrating its 150th anniversary Nov. 3 at 10:30 a.m., which will include a worship service and a covered-dish luncheon afterward.
The anniversary will feature main speaker John Kimmons and minor speakers Steve Sellers and Sam Morrow.
Kimmons offers his own memory of the church.
“When I was 15, Danny Waugh, Billy Deal and I were laying out of church by hiding in the chair room downstairs behind the stage,” he stated in a document on the history of the church. “As the service would start we would slip out to the back door of the drugstore next door and have a lemonade and some crackers and return just as the church was letting out. Gene Hines, one of our Scout leaders, was putting chairs back in the room and caught the three of us hiding there.”
He asked them if they planned to ever do this again, to which they replied in the negative.
“Gene never mentioned it to my father and my father did not bring justice because Gene Hines showed grace,” he said. “I will never forget it.”
The service will also feature the bell choir playing “The Church’s One Foundation” and the choir singing “The King of Love My Shepherd Is.”