1837 – 1841
The First Presbyterian Church of Jackson was organized on a Saturday afternoon, April 8, 1837 by the Reverend Peter Donan and four persons: Mrs. Margaret E. Mayson, Mrs. Susan Patton, and John Robb and his wife, Marion.
The organization meeting was held in “the Old State House,” Mississippi’s first capitol, a small two-story structure on the northeast corner of E. Capitol and N. President Streets. Peter Donan continued as the church’s pastor for four years.
There were no elders for two years, no deacons for six years, nor a Presbyterian house of worship for nearly nine years. In the first two years of its existence, the church had but three new members.
1841 – 1842
In 1841, Reverend Donan was followed by Reverend S. H. Hazard, who was pastor for little more than one year. He was succeeded by the Reverend Leroy Jones Halsey, a dynamic man and preacher, under whose ministry the congregation commenced to grow. Halsey spurred the building of the first sanctuary on the northwest corner of North State and Yazoo Streets.
1848 – 1849
When Dr. Halsey resigned in 1848, the pulpit was supplied until February 22, 1849. The congregation then called as pastor the Reverend Isaac James Henderson, who served until he was succeeded by the Reverend L. A. Lowry on December 3, 1853. Mr. Lowry was a fine pastor and effective preacher, but died of Yellow Fever after but two years’ service. The pulpit was supplied from March, 1855, until a call was extended to the Reverend John Hunter on January 24, 1858.
1858 – 1951
The Reverend John Hunter was born and raised in North Ireland, received his seminary training at the Presbyterian Seminary in Danville, Kentucky, and was a vigorous, faithful and able preacher of God’s word, and pastor of First Presbyterian Church for 37 years. John Hunter’s wife, Rosa Farrar Petrie Hunter, worked ably with him through all his years.
Dr. Hunter’s pastorate was followed by that of James Buchanan Hutton, a native of Virginia and graduate of Union Theological Seminary at Hampden-Sydney, Virginia, who with his wife, Rosalind Gwin Hutton, were loved and admired by our congregation through his pastorate of almost 44 years.
Our next minister, R. Girard Lowe, was another consecrated, spiritually-minded, conservative man of God, who also was a fine athlete and who had unusual rapport with the young people of the congregation, many of whom he was instrumental in leading to the Lord.
His ministry ended with death by cancer, and it was a saddened congregation that buried this fine, attractive, much-loved man. During Dr. Lowe’s ministry our present sanctuary was built, the final service in the old church of North State at Yazoo Streets being on August 29, 1951.
1952 – 1968
Dr. John Reed Miller, a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, then was called and served as pastor from 1952 until 1968. Previously he held pastorates in Ohio, West Virginia, and Tennessee. He had served as president of Knoxville College, taught at Belhaven College, and was the founding pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Jackson.
Under his leadership, First Presbyterian Church became more vitally interested in missions, and the Church began holding annual World Mission Conferences. In 1962, he led the church in founding a Winter Theological Institute, which was continued at Reformed Theological Seminary after that institution was founded, with Dr. Miller’s counseling and encouragement.
Dr. Miller was known for his commitment to pastoral ministry and to biblical preaching. His scholarship and careful sermon preparation were always apparent, as was his love for his Lord, and his conviction that “the message must be saturated with the profound conceptions of God’s Word.”
With Dr. Miller’s profound sermons, for the first time the sanctuary was filled to capacity for Sunday evening services. For 16 years his evening sermons were broadcast on WSLI radio, and beginning in the early 1960s, the morning worship services also were televised.
Also under the leadership of Dr. Miller, the church established in 1965 The First Presbyterian Church Day School, which to this day has provided outstanding scholastic training and strong biblical teaching to thousands of young people in this city.
1969 – 1983
Dr. Donald B. Patterson was installed as the next pastor in September, 1969, and served until 1983. Under his leadership the World Mission Program was greatly expanded and the Church experienced substantial growth. During Dr. Patterson’s pastorate Twin Lakes Conference Center was developed, an outstanding addition to our Church’s ministry.
Also during Dr. Patterson’s ministry at First Church, The Presbyterian Church in America was formed, with Dr. Patterson and several of his church’s ruling elders serving on the various committees which wrote the fundamental documents for the new denomination. Dr. Patterson served as Chairman of the Steering Committee that formed The Presbyterian Church in America.
During Dr. Patterson’s pastorate, his wife, Jeanne, served as the leader of the Explorer’s Bible Study, which involved more than 450 women from 72 churches, and continues to attract men and women from over the city of Jackson.
Subsequent to his retirement, Dr. Patterson was appointed “Pastor at Large” for Mission to the World, the foreign mission arm of the Presbyterian Church in America.
Dr. and Mrs. Patterson traveled throughout the world, counseling and encouraging our growing numbers of missionaries (over 60 have come out of First Presbyterian Church). When Dr. Patterson asked to be relieved of this responsibility in 1993, his pastorate included more than 600 missionaries located in 60 countries.
He then was named “Special Representative,” which enabled him to represent Mission to the World in various special capacities, one of these being “Vision Trips.” For many years he organized “Vision Trips” for pastors and interested laymen to go to various mission fields, see the work, and become involved in evangelization efforts in those areas.
1983 – 1995
Dr. James M. Baird succeeded Dr. Patterson as Pastor of First Church in November, 1983. Dr. Baird was a popular minister and an able preacher of God’s word. The church continued to grow under his pastorate, and he gave leadership to three successful building programs to increase the church plant size. Dr. Baird’s TV ministry was widely followed and was instrumental in bringing numerous persons from all over Mississippi to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
He was instrumental in involving First Presbyterian Church in the Mission Mississippi movement, and he met regularly with black and white ministers from over the city in promoting that work. Until his resignation in December, 1995, Dr. Baird was ably assisted by his capable, delightful wife, Jane.
1996 – 2013
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III, a native of Greenville, South Carolina, and the son of an eighth generation Southern Presbyterian Ruling Elder, became the Minister of First Presbyterian Church in August of 1996. He is a graduate of Furman University, Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, and the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.
In 1990, Dr. Duncan joined the faculty of Reformed Theological Seminary as Chairman of the Department of Systematic Theology, and The John R. Richardson Professor of Theology. During this time he also was assistant to the pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Jackson, and in 1993 served as Interim Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Yazoo City.
The space allocated for this very brief history doesn’t permit mentioning by name the ruling elders of first Church of Jackson, men elected to that office for lifetime. It will suffice to say that our deceased ruling elders through all the years of life of this church’s existence guided and directed First Presbyterian Church in such paths that the state of this church today is attributable in large degree to the faithful and God-centered efforts of these ruling elders.
Mention must be made of the work of these ruling elders, and deacons, too, in founding the First Presbyterian Day School, which has provided outstanding scholastic training and strong biblical teaching to thousands of young people from the congregation and from all over Jackson.
The Day School is now one of the strongest programs of the church, and the church’s continued growth and strength can be attributed in large part to the efforts of the Lord in His working through the Day School.
In all things, to God be the glory.