OUR MISSION STATEMENT
We gather as God's people to deepen our understanding of Christ;
to spread His word and teachings;
and to reach out to our church family, our community,
and the world through acts of compassion, kindness, and love.
OUR CHURCH STAFF
|Pastor, Sam Pendergrast||Music Director, David Kolb|
|Organist / Accompanist, Andrea Radesi||Bell Choir Director, Tom McGibbon|
|Custodian & Maintenance --||Harry Carpenter|
|Church Secretary, Kari Ketchum||Financial Secretary, Susan Hatzinger|
Our church was born in 1793 with some early settlers who covenanted to worship together at the Ebenezer Wright homestead until God would form them into a church. That came about on September 28, 1800 when an ordained minister, the Reverend Simon Waterman, visited the community and formally established the group as the First Religious Society of Rome. Our first official pastor was the Reverend Moses Gillett who came in 1807 to lead the congregation of 34 members.
A “Meeting House” was constructed the following year on the present Court Street site. It was designed by Mr. Benjamin Wright who would become the “Chief Engineer” of the Erie Canal. For over a century, the primary means of maintaining the church building and paying its pastors was by an annual auction of pew rentals with the highest bidders getting the front seats.
A Sabbath school for girls was started in 1816 by Mrs. George Huntington. The example was soon followed by Mr. Oliver Grosvener who taught a class for boys. Both classes met in neighboring homes or shops.
As the “Great Awakening” swept the country in 1826, the “fire and brimstone” preacher, the Reverend Charles Grandison Finney, came to our church to begin his evangelical crusade. Under his influence, 148 converts joined our church on March 12. The revival soon proceeded down the Mohawk Valley which became known as “The burned over district”.
A far-reaching result of the Finney revival was the organization of Knox College in Galesville, Illinois. The “Prairie College” as it was first named, was the dream of Finney’s mentor, the Reverend George Washington Gale of Westernville, New York. Its founders planned and organized it at our church in 1835. The college was formally established by the Illinois legislature on February 15, 1937.
Originally our church was a Congregational church. But in 1818 it joined the more prevalent denomination in Central New York, the Presbyterian Church. However, that decision caused a division in the church which was not reconciled until 1848 when our second pastor, the Reverend Selden Haines, and the pastor of the Second Congregational Church of Rome, the Reverend George Boardman, both resigned in order to make way for reunion under a new pastor, the Reverend William Knox.
With the reunion and a growing community, a larger church building was needed. The present sanctuary was erected in 1852 at the cost of $18,000. Its unique architecture was the work of Mr. O. Wheelock of Watertown.
When the Civil War broke out, Pastor Knox went with the Christian Commission to minister to Union troops. Meanwhile Mrs. Knox was instrumental in developing the first graded Sunday School curriculum in the state.
By 1870 our church had grown to over 1,000 members, and the Reverend Peter Stryker was called as the fourth pastor. He became a strong advocate for foreign missions, and started mission Sunday Schools in the east and west ends of the city. During the fifth pastorate of the Reverend James Taylor, the East Side Sunday school became our church’s East Rome Chapel, serving the city’s “Factory Village” and its immigrant citizens for over 25 years. The centennial of our church was celebrated with the construction of a large Sunday school annex. It was built in the then popular Akron style of church architecture, providing a large central auditorium with a half-circle balcony of classrooms. The Reverend Charles Sewall was our pastor at that time. The emphasis of his ministry was young people and mission support.
The longest pastorate of our church was held by the Reverend Philip Cole from 1907 to 1940. His scholarly approach to ministry brought balance to our church through the tumultuous liberal and fundamentalist controversy of that era. He also initiated the position of a professional Christian Educator on our church staff.
During both World Wars, numerous sons and daughters of the church enlisted to defend those who cherished liberty, and most of our members became involved in defense industries on the home front. Fr. Cole’s successor, the Reverend Edmund Dyett instituted the “Copper Spire” newsletter to keep in touch with service men and women. He also joined the war effort in 1944 as a chaplain in the Navy.
The post war period saw phenomenal growth in membership and in the variety of programs. The Reverend Percy Radford, our ninth pastor, attracted hundreds of new members with his wonderful rapport with young people. And, being a great singer himself, he encouraged the development of choirs for children as well as for adults, and aided the transition from a few paid choristers to a large volunteer choir.
It was during the 1950’s, while Reverend Jennings Reid was our pastor, that our church reached its highest enrollment of 1,500 members. This required another addition to our building complex in 1958, which as appropriately named the Reid Christian Education Center. In 1972 the chapel in the Reid Center was named Bethel Chapel. This was done to commemorate the union with our congregation of 50 Welsh-Americans from the former Bethel Presbyterian Church in Rome. That church disbanded after its building on North Washington Street was destroyed by a fire.
By 1989, Bethel Chapel was serving another immigrant population, a group of Korean wives of American airmen at nearby Griffiss Air Force Base. In 1977 that Korean congregation became a church in its own right, the Immanuel Presbyterian Church, and continues to this day to share our facilities. We opened the First Presbyterian Nursery School in 1960 and have made our facilities available to the Rome Day Care Center; the Girl Scouts, Narcotics Anonymous and other groups on request.
Today our church faces many major challenges. With the end of the Cold War, the military mission at that was at Griffiss Air Force Base since 1942 closed. The economic loss of that closure, along with the loss of military population, is exacerbated by a general exodus of industrial jobs and young people from Central New York. However, as this church enters the third century of its life, it goes forward with the preparation of its rich heritage, confident that in times of change God will raise up faithful people just as he has in the past.
1793: A group of settlers of the gathered together to worship at the home of Ebenezer Wright.1800: Rev. Simon Waterman (1807 – 1837) formally establishes the “First Religious Society of Rome” of the Congregational denomination.
1841: Rev. Dr. Selden Haines (1841 - 1869) resigned in 1846 as did the pastor of the Congregational Church in an effort to make way for a new pastor and a more united congregation.
1848: Rev. Dr. William Knox (1848 – 1869) During the Civil War he worked with the Christian Commission to minister to Union troops.
1870: Rev. Dr. Peter Stryker (1870 – 1876) was a strong advocate for missions, starting mission Sunday Schools in the east and west ends of the city.
1876: Rev. Dr. James H. Taylor (1876 – 1899) established the East Rome Chapel in the city’s “Factory Village”, serving immigrant citizens for over 25 years.
1900: Rev. Charles G. Sewall (1900 – 1907) The church’s 100th birthday was celebrated; a new annex was built providing a large central auditorium and several classrooms.
1907: Rev. Philip H. Cole PhD, D.D. (1907 – 1940) is remembered for his scholarly approach to ministry, bringing balance to the church through the tumultuous liberal and fundamental controversy of that era.
1940: Rev. Dr. Edmond G. Dyett, MA, PhD. (1940 – 1944) was responsible for creation of the “Copperspire”, the church’s monthly newsletter that is still going strong today; Rev. Dyett resigned as pastor to join the war effort as a Navy chaplain.
1945: Rev. Dr. Percy E. Radford, PhD, D.D., L.L.D. (1945 – 1956) was a great “people” person with a special interest in the youth of the church; phenomenal growth in membership during the postwar period; music lover who encouraged development of choirs for children and adults; 150th birthday of our church was celebrated.
1957: Rev. Dr. Jennings B. Reid, PhD., D.D. (1957 – 1971) Church reached its highest enrollment; an addition was built in 1958, named the Reid Christian Education Center. 1972: Rev. Robert A. O’Meara (1972 – 2005) was a pastor for all of the people, active in many local organizations, retired in 2005 after 33 years of service; church’s 200th birthday was celebrated in 2000.
2006: Rev. Patricia Ashley (2006 – 2008) Interim pastor; successfully and graciously brought our congregation to new life and a commitment to our new pastor.
2008: Rev. Samuel Pendergrast serves as twelfth installed pastor. The Reid Christian Education Center was made handicap accessible; Bethel Chapel was renovated to with flexible furniture to for multiple uses; the parlor was renovated for fellowship events.