A nearly 140 year history of Presbyterian witness in Prescott is coming to an end. On Sunday, August 4, First Presbyterian Church will close its doors with a final service of celebration at 5 p.m.
The final service, conducted by the Presbytery of the Pines, will be an opportunity for the community to come together to celebrate the legacy and witness of the congregation to the community and beyond.
In April, 1874, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church was founded in Prescott with 18 charter members. The first pastor, the Rev. F. M. Sanders, served only eight months. He was killed while riding with a party to apprehend some horse thieves in Lafayette County.
The first building of the church was completed in 1875 (the first church building in the town), and was used by many denominations. In 1906 this branch of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church merged with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.
In October, 1875, another Presbyterian congregation was formed. The new congregation was a member of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. It met in St. James Episcopal Church for about eight years. It began with nine charter members.
The two congregations formed a federation congregation in 1909, sharing one building, pastor and service while members retained membership and financial commitments to the two denominations. In 1983 the two denominations officially merged to form the Presbyterian Church (USA).
During its history, the two predecessor congregations and First Presbyterian Church have served the community in numerous ways. In recent times, the congregation has had a very active food ministry, providing food and commodities distribution to the area. During WW II, in the summer of 1941, 110,000 U.S. Army soldiers were in the town for maneuvers. The church opened its doors to them. The members provided them with writing materials, books, magazines, ice-water and well-equipped restrooms. In the evening, members served refreshments to the troops, and held informal music sessions, including concerts put on by the musicians in uniform.
Some noted members of the congregation have included Captain John A. Ansley, who established the first school in Prescott, the Ansley Academy, and Thomas C. McRae, congressman and two-term governor of Arkansas.
Charlotte Cobb is the Commissioned Ruling Elder pastoring the congregation.
“It is a time of mixed emotions for the congregation,” she has said. “They have served God faithfully for many years, and have struggled to remain active, even as the membership has shrunk. While it is sad to see the church close, we do it with the conviction that we have given our best to proclaiming the gospel. The witness of this church lives on through the many lives that have been touched by that service.”
Dan Hignight, the Stated Clerk for the Presbytery of the Pines, put it this way,
“We are told that we are branches of Christ’s great vine. This branch has been producing wonderful fruit for the Kingdom of God for over a century. We celebrate that the nourishment of that fruit has sustained generations and will continue to sustain more as the witness of this congregation, this branch, is alive through those who have benefited from its teaching, preaching, and outreach.”