In the fall of 1869, Synodical missionary the Reverend Timothy Hill sent the Reverend Wilberforce K. Boggs to establish a Presbyterian church in Wichita. On March 13, 1870, the First Presbyterian Church of Wichita was organized with 13 charter members in an abandoned military dugout at what is now the southeast corner of Jackson and Twelfth Streets.
By December 1871, Boggs had left to start new churches in nearby towns and the Reverend John Pease Harsen became the first installed pastor. The church had a membership of 30 with a Sunday school of around 100 students.
With so much growth, the church outgrew its space. On July 4, 1876, the cornerstone was laid on a new brick church at the southwest corner of First Street and Lawrence (Broadway) Avenue. The congregation occupied the impressive new church in 1877.
John D. Hewitt, Harsen’s successor, led the church in establishing many small Sunday schools and churches in the area. Several important organizations got their start under Hewitt’s leadership, including: Lewis Academy, the Woman’s Home and Foreign Missionary Society, Ladies Aid Society, and the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor.
The national economic situation put the church in financial difficulties. Despite financial problems, the church was expanding rapidly and seating capacity was increased at the Red Brick Church by the addition of north and south transepts.
The Reverend Charles Edwin Bradt accepted the pastorate in June 1896, and the church supported itself and many overseas mission projects. Within two years, the debt was erased and the membership increased, making the church the 23rd largest Presbyterian church in the United States.
Such growth required a larger facility. Beginning as early as 1902, plans for a new building were discussed. Before specific plans could be made, Bradt was called to be the Field Secretary of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. He preached his last sermon on May 28, 1905, leaving an indelible imprint on the congregation.
On July 6, 1906, the Reverend Thomas Parry was called to be the senior pastor. Discussion continued on the construction of a new church, and the last service held at the Red Brick Church was Sunday, August 19, 1909.
The cornerstone of the new building was laid on November 13, 1910 at the corner of Lawrence Avenue and Elm Street. Some controversy had arisen over the location of the new church, so 25% of the proceeds from the sale of the Red Brick Church went to a group of 160 who went on to form Grace Presbyterian Church on the east part of town.
The Reverend Andrew Melrose Brodie came to pastor First Church in March 1912 as construction continued. The Stone Church, dedicated November 3, 1912, was designed by Cleveland architects Badgley and Nicklas. The worship space is dominated by impressive stained-glass windows designed by C.J. Andrew of Kansas City.
Brodie’s ability to organize and attract and build a large membership led to the organizations such as Women’s Bible Class, the Carnation Class and Women’s Union. As a brilliant orator, he preached and reached people who wouldn’t ordinarily attend church.
After Brodie became ill and had to leave the pastorate, the church called the Reverend Harrison Ray Anderson to assume the role. At age 29, he brought youth and great charisma to the pulpit. Several innovations begun, including the Presbyterian Brotherhood, and the Week Day School of Religion. The church continued to grow rapidly and in 1922, the Parish Plan was adopted.
The Case Building was completed in early 1935, and the church finally had sufficient space for church school classes, meetings, Weekday Church School and other activities of the busy congregation.
First Presbyterian women took over many projects during the war, including staffing the war bonds booth at Hinkle’s Department Store (pictured). First Presbyterian women contributed more than 10,000 hours in volunteer work from 1942-1945.
First Presbyterian Church in the 1950s was the fifth largest Presbyterian church in the United States.
In 1955, 40 acres of land northwest of Wichita were purchased and the church camp came into being. Construction of buildings and trails and beautification moved rapidly the first few years. Camp usages was quite high in the 1950s and 60s.
The women of First Presbyterian Church opened the Economy Corner as a means to raise money for the building improvement fund. Since it was so successful, the store was kept open to contribute to the church’s annual fund. Since then, the Economy Corner has become the single-largest contributor to the church.
In 1974, it was apparent that transportation was needed for the elderly and handicapped. Finally, a church van was purchased and a bus was always available to take relatives to visit prisoners, to take people to and from church, and to provide transportation to and from church camp.
In the 1980s, adult work groups were organized to travel and perform mission work. Trips took the groups to Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Arkansas, Missouri, and various churches across Kansas. All of the trips were dedicated to the love and mission of Jesus Christ.
*Information compiled by Gary M. Huffman, Archivist
More information and building photographs can be found in the Wichita Business Journal, which ran the feature, "My Favorite Building: First Presbyterian Church 'lifts one upward.'"
For a complete history, please refer to This is Who We Are, a history of First Presbyterian Church, available for sale from the Archives.