OUR RICH HISTORY
Pittsboro Presbyterian Church was originally a simple brick structure built in 1850 and was substantially rebuilt in 1875 to its current appearance. A major restoration was done in 1971.
This building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Pittsboro Presbyterian Church celebrates its past and the contributions of Christians who have gone before and gone on; but the church is also focused on ways to follow Christ and serve its neighbors, here and everywhere, in the future.
Growing through faith in Christ since 1850
Pittsboro Presbyterian Church was established in August 1848, in a meeting moderated by Rev. Drury Lacy of Raleigh. The Rev. James H. McNeill, a recent graduate of Princeton Seminary, was called as pastor. He organized a Sabbath School and a weekly prayer meeting. His congregation grew. At first meeting across the street from the present location in the home of Green Womack, in less than a year, the congregation had raised $1,350.00 for the purpose of erecting a house of worship. On the fourth Sunday in May 1850, preaching services were held in the new church building, which still stands and remains in use, well preserved as a historical site. The original pews are still in service, handmade from wide pine boards.
Originally the church sanctuary was topped by a steeple that was destroyed by a tornado in 1877 which also damaged the roof. That replacement steeple had to be removed in the 1920’s and was again restored in 1971 with funds provided by the Connell family. The steeple on the nearby Chatham County Courthouse was copied from this church steeple in type and design. The bell inside that church steeple was imported from London in the early 1850’s and is still rung as a call to worship on Sunday mornings.
In 1953 an educational building was annexed to the church. The decade from 1975 to 1985 produced a strengthening of the Christian Education program. During the 1960’s and 70’the church was pastored primarily by ministers who were enrolled in the Duke Divinity School. One of those was Steve Shoemaker. Steve was noticeable around town as he was six feet, ten inches tall though he claimed to be only five feet twenty-two inches tall. His wife Nadja was five-three. The original hand–built pulpit was raised five inches to accommodate him. The manse on Hillsboro Street was sold in 1973, and pastors were given a housing allowance to allow them to find housing that suited their needs.
While the congregation has remained around 100 members, it has an influence far and wide. One of the charter members, Daniel McGilvary, left Pittsboro to attend Princeton Seminary and became a missionary to Siam. Archie Ray, one of its young members in 1920 became a Presbyterian minister. Graham Connell, moved to Raleigh and as an elder in First Presbyterian was commissioned to help organize White Memorial Presbyterian Church with a membership of over 3000 members. Betty Scott Barber Smith became director of Youth Work for the Presbyterian Church in North Carolina in 1945. Charlie Thompson who was active in outreach programs received a doctorate at UNC and taught Religious Studies at Gettysburg College.
The Rev. Frank Lemmon served as pastor. He was well known for his sensitivity and counseling skills from 1974 to 1978. The cemetery was landscaped; the congregation contributed to the establishment of a community medical center; and members helped organize a walkathon to combat world hunger. The church building was nominated and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
The church was served by several ministers whose stays were short but enthusiastic from 1978 until the fall of 1983. During these years the congregation grew in size and spirituality. In 1979 the church began participating in Pennies for Hunger. Also in 1979 members voted to acquire the home of Annie L. Bynum which adjoined its property to the west. Sunday School classes were held in the home until it was removed in 1989. The children of the church were invited to the communion table in 1980. Following a study of the church and the denomination in 1981, a youth group was organized in conjunction with other area churches. New committees and the unifying of the Boards of Elders and Deacons into a unicameral Session added efficiency to church structure and service.
The church issued its first call to a woman minister, the Rev. Tempe Lee Earl Fussell in the fall of 1983. Rev. Fussell helped nurture retreats, small group study, and wider fellowship. She helped guide the church through a time of expansion including an addition completed in 1989 containing a fellowship hall, kitchen, handicap-equipped bathrooms, and a pastor’s study. The previous 1953 addition was also refurbished for Sunday School rooms. These changes have increased the church’s outreach to nonprofit organizations in the community including Scouts, N.A., A.A., Sister’s Voices, and other community groups. The Rev. Julia Ross Strope served as interim minister through December 1991. Her artful flair and colorful sermons were long remembered.
The church is unique in that two dedicated organists gifted the church with their musical leadership for 50 years each; Carrie M. Jackson and Hazel Poole Carter. Linda Brooks Kidd, who served as pianist for the congregation willed her grand piano to the church at her death July 19, 2011.
The Church called the Rev. Robert Cleveland as pastor in 1992. A retired Marine officer, Mr. Cleveland led Pittsboro Presbyterians in a time of growth and development through 2000. Rev. Cleveland was named Pastor Emeritus on May 2, 2004. Pittsboro Presbyterian Church held a Sesquicentennial Celebration the weekend of August 8 and 9, 1998 with guest minister Ms. Marj Carpenter delivering the sermon. Marj was an Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and was the News and Information Director for both the PCUS and the PC (USA) for 17 years before being elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the PC (USA) in 1995. The church worked with St. Julia’s Hispanic Mission during this period to provide space for this part of our community to have a place of worship using the Spanish language predominately in their services. NOTALONE Lunch was started on the second Sunday of each month so that individuals could share a meal together. That has evolved to be a Second Sunday lunch so that members share a meal together at least once a month. Pittsboro Presbyterian did not develop its own outreach programs but worked with JOCCA, CORA, Chatham County Together, Dispute Settlement Center, Smart Start, Carolina Interfaith Taskforce on Central America, Haw River Assembly and others. With the leadership of member Bill Dow, it helped build solar heating window units for ourselves and others in the area. This church worked with the other churches in Pittsboro on youth programs, Bible School, and Holiday worship services.
A columbarium was added to the church cemetery in early 2000; a garden and seating area were gifted in 2007.
The church had long had a dream of being able to support and benefit from a fulltime minister. Many fine pastors had brought their talents and love of Christ to this ministry, but all were part-time, halftime, supply, or interim. At last in June of 2003, Rev. Troy Lesher-Thomas became the first fulltime pastor of the church. His work with the church encouraged fellowship activities, catechism class, youth involvement with the larger denomination, and a fuller participation in the religious and secular life of Pittsboro. The youth have led the congregation in supporting Heifer International, and have raised over $20,000 in donations. Chatham County entered a period of population growth in the 21st century, with new challenges and a growing, more diverse congregation. Charles and Marion Cameron, members of the congregation, were instrumental in leading PPC in missionary work with churches in Ghana, Africa. In addition to supporting churches and becoming a sister church to the church in Tease, sources of water were developed, agriculture education provided, and the women of the churches were taught and guided in starting bakeries to provide bread as a means of income and livelihood for themselves.
The home and property of Ira and Minnie Beal was purchased in 1996. The home was later removed so that the church would have adjacent parking and was able to establish the Nooe Park, named in honor of Lloyd and Mary Nooe who made a notable financial gift to the church.
Members of the PPC congregation met as a committee with members of the University Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill to establish the new church at Briar Chapel, Chapel in the Pines in 2005, with the first service held in 2011 in their new building. The property on which the new church was built was purchased from Bob and Shirley Lindley, members of PPC, from land were Bob had grown up.
Pittsboro Presbyterian Church continues in its ministry to the community in various ways and means. It has contributed both labor and funds to Habitat for Humanity in the building of homes in Chatham County. The most recent project has been to install solar panels on the roof of the church Sunday School rooms and kitchen. While providing electricity, this is a statement to passersby that this congregation is concerned with our environment and is taking action to nurture the community not only in spiritual ways.
Pittsboro Presbyterian Church
95 East Street (physical address)
PO Box 713 (mailing address)
Pittsboro NC 27312
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