A bit of our church’s history!
In 1925, Rev. H.W. McComb of Fort Pierce held our first service at the Stuart High School Auditorium with a group of winter visitors and residents who had previous Presbyterian affiliations. On the last Sunday in April 1926, the Rev. L. E. Koening, Presbyterian Field Worker, held a service during the summer, beginning with the first Sunday in May. The Sunday school was organized on October 3, 1926 with an enrollment of 49.
The First Presbyterian Church of Stuart, Florida was formally organized, on the petition by 54 signers, by Dr. J. F. Shepherd under the authority given to him by the Southeast Presbytery of the Synod of Florida of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America at Stuart High School Auditorium on October 24, 1926. 43 of the original petitioners were received as members.
For some time after its organization, the church held its services in the High School Auditorium, and then moved to the Women's Club building on Albany Avenue until the hurricane of 1933 when that building was wrecked. Miss Woodman's Hall, which Mr. A. T. Hogarth gave rent-free, and the Sunday following the hurricane the Rev. and Mrs. W. G. Rees, who had been away on vacation, found a church and Sunday school ready for service.
First official steps toward securing a Church building was a congregational meeting called for Wednesday, June 28, 1933 to consider a site. A lot offered by Mrs. George McPherson was accepted on July 7, 1933 but not built upon. In the Fall of 1933, after considerable discussion and negotiations; a cottage at 312 Osceola Avenue was bought and remodeled to be available as a Chapel. First service in the Chapel was on November 26, 1933 with the Dedication service on January 25, 1934.
Limited to an approximate attendance of 50, the Chapel soon became too small for the growing congregation, augmented by winter visitors.
Dr. Wingerd came to Stuart in 1939. Shortly after he arrived he realized the need for a permanent Church, one that would be large enough to take care of the growing congregation, and it was through his efforts that a building fund was started. By constant effort and work on the part of the Pastor, members of the congregation and friends of the church, the fund grew to $1,500.00 World War II blocked building and finance plans, but the funds were held intact.
After the war, the building program and its vital financing were revived by Dr. Charles A. Carriel, who succeeded Dr. Wingerd on the latter's retirement. Dr. Carriel provided the leadership and unflagging spirit of accomplishment which inspired the congregation to collect funds and pledges and make arrangements with the National Board of Missions to borrow money and procure a grant. These efforts resulted in construction of this church, which initially cost $34,800.00. In addition to this figure, the cost of the organ, chairs, furnishings and many other items was contributed by members of the Church, various organizations of the Church and friends.
The Rev. Malcolm A. Harris was installed as pastor on September 14, 1958 . Again a building Committee was elected to study the possibilities of expanding our facilities to meet our current anticipated growth. Five and one half acres were eventually purchased in the North River Shores development. Harold E. Wagoner of Philadelphia was hired as architect and ground was broken for the new church on October 16, 1960 by Elder H. F. Stevenson.
The church membership by this time had grown to 300 and the church school enrollment reached 185.
On November 13, 1960 the corner stone was laid. W. R. Scott was chairman and Mrs. Robert Peck co-chairman of the building committee. The first service was held in the North River Shores church in what is now the Fellowship Hall on Sunday, May 21, 1961 and dedicated the following Sunday, May 28, 1961 with the Rev. Dr. Charles T. Martz, Synod Executive of Florida delivering the sermon.
During the years the congregation used these facilities the church membership grew from 332 to 627 by 1972. It was at this time that a decision was made to enlarge our facilities which, actually, had been projected when the congregation moved to North River Shores property. On July 25, 1972 the recommendation came from the committee on the New Sanctuary that the session approved the Church Building and expansion program. Kenneth Knowles became the chairman of the building committee and the program was started two years later.
Lloyd Frank Vann of Miami was hired as the architect. Ground-breaking ceremonies were conducted on March 3, 1974. The cornerstone, was laid on December 8, 1974, Contained the following documents: the Church Directory, the UPW directory, the current Newsletter (December 1974 issue), a 1973 brochure with pictures and the 1974 brochure, and the December 8th Worship Bulletin.
During the years of growth and construction it was necessary to conduct two worship services on Sunday mornings, Christmas Eve and Easter in order to accommodate our congregation and winter visitors.
On June 8, 1975 the congregation moved into its new sanctuary with the Rev. Dr. Carl K. Pollhein conducting the first worship service. The Church membership by this time had grown to 740. Prior to moving into the sanctuary Dr. Pollhein delivered a sermon on the meaning and value of the old sanctuary and was conducted on Sunday, October 5, 1975. Dedication was held on Sunday November 23, 1975. Members were able to worship again as one congregation.
During the building of the new sanctuary, other building expansions were taking place. The annex building between the sanctuary and our education unit was built to provide a choir room and additional office space. The north and south wings of the education unit were expanded for additional classrooms and a library/conference room. The old sanctuary was converted into a fellowship hall.
In the fall of 1975 the Presbyterian Early Leaning School was established as an academic pre-school for children of the community, ages 2.5 – 5, starting with 2 teachers and 15 students during the daily morning sessions.
The First Presbyterian Church of Stuart celebrated its 50th Anniversary during the week of October 17, 1976 with special programs during the week, ending with a special re-dedication service on October 24th. The Church Pictorial Directory was printed as a 50th Anniversary document.
The community continued to grow, not only with permanent residents, but also with winter residents and visitors. In order to accommodate the increase in our worship attendance, the session again voted to have two worship services during the winter months, starting October 1978.
In the spring of 1979, three new rooms were built adjacent to the main church office to provide additional office space for our church staff. The construction, formally named the “Forbush Wing”, was dedicated in November 1979. The church office has been developed as a Center of Information and is well equipped for our present needs as well as those in the future.
Our membership by January 1, 1980 was 839 and we continue to experience growth. This congregation has surely been blessed!
The Rev. Dr. Carl Pollhein left First Church in 1987 to plant a new church in Selerno, FL. The Rev. Dr. Leslie Koerselman came to First Church in August of 1988. In 1991 the Choir Annex was remodeled to accommodate the John Knox room, a parlor and an expanded choir room. The same remodeling project included a Narthex on the front of the sanctuary. The builder was able to get windows that matched the existing stained glass windows in the chancel and the large cross that graced the front of the sanctuary was moved to the front of the new narthex.
After Dr. Koerselman moved on the Rev. Dr. Henry Strock was summoned as interim pastor and he remained till Rev. Donald Rossire was called in August of 2000. When Rev. Rossire left in May of 2003 we were blessed to be able to bring The Rev. Dr. Henry Strock back to once again serve as our interim while we searched for the person God has prepared to lead us into a brightening future.
In July 2005 our congregation extended a call to the Rev. Douglas LaPointe as our minister. Our contemporary service began in 2006 but was temporarily suspended in the summer of 2010. Rev. LaPointe left our congregation in 2009 to pursue a public speaking career. Dr. Raymond W. Gamble became our interim for just over one year; from March of 2009 through June of 2010. Dr. Chuck Denison joined us as Senior Pastor in June of 2010.
We look forward to all that God will do in and through First Presbyterian Church of Stuart in the coming years.