First Presbyterian Church was organized in 1822. The cornerstone of the first church building had been laid on August 15, 1821 on a lot at the northwest corner of the intersection of Middle and London Streets. At that time, it was named The Presbyterian Church in Portsmouth.
Fire destroyed the building in 1871 and a new one was erected on the same site. In January 1877, another fire destroyed the second building. The congregation then purchased a lot on the corner of Court and King Streets, where the current church building is located.
The new building was dedicated on September 26, 1877, as the Court Street Presbyterian Church. The pews and stenciled glass windows in the existing sanctuary came from England and were saved from the 1877 fire.
The first Sunday school building was erected on a lot adjoining the sanctuary around 1890 and was used, with some additions, until 1928. The name of the church was changed the First Presbyterian Church, Portsmouth in 1897. Property behind the sanctuary was purchased in 1959-60, and the present educational building, fellowship hall, and church offices stand on that property. The building was completed in 1974.
First Presbyterian Church has been instrumental in the founding of four other Presbyterian churches in the Portsmouth area. Prentis Park Presbyterian Church was founded in 1916 and Craddock Presbyterian Church in 1920. Simonsdale Presbyterian was established in the late 1950s and Green Acres Presbyterian Church was established in 1957. In 1967 the Prentis Park congregation merged with First Presbyterian, strengthening the church family with many dedicated and capable leaders.
1922 brought the first Centennial Observance of First Presbyterian Church. One of our elders at that time said that the success of this congregation was due to the belief in the power of prayer, devotion to missions, and observance of the Sabbath, generosity, and unity.
The courtyard facing Court Street was completely re-done in 2005 as the "Friendship Courtyard," a downtown retreat for the congregation and community alike. Here we hold our summer courtyard music concert series, which is free and open to all.
How We Are Governed
All member churches of the Presbyterian Church (USA) are governed in the same way: the congregation of each church elects Elders to serve on a governing board called "The Session." The Session oversees the daily activity of the church, such as Sunday worship, Sunday school, Mission and Outreach, and Financial and Property Management. Although these responsibilities may be delegated, the Session has ultimate responsibility.
The congregation, at its discretion, may establish a Board of Deacons and elect Deacons to serve on that board. The Diaconate has no governing authority, but is charged with the care of the members of the congregation.
The congregation also elects pastors to lead worship and provide pastoral care to the church's members. The pastor also moderates the Session. These three: Elders, Deacons and Pastor constitute the Officers of the Church.
A note about the terms of office: the pastor's terms of "call" are renewed every year by the congregation, the elders and deacons are elected to three-year terms called "classes."