Ruling Elder Jim Stewart has long served as both Stated Clerk and as historian for the historic First Presbyterian Church of Schenectady, New York. Recently he was kind to provide us with a short account of the history of the church. There is much here that we may follow up on in months to come!
A Brief History of First Presbyterian Church Schenectady
According to a local history, Presbyterians began meeting in Schenectady as early as 1735. In 1759, the Episcopalians and Presbyterians bought land and began constructing a building for their joint use. This did not work out, and in 1769, a lot was purchased and a new church building was built. The early congregation was a mixture of Ulster/Scots immigrants and English Puritans who came via New England. These two groups did not mix very well, and tensions between them were not resolved until the 1820s.
Multiple revivals strengthened the church, especially the 1819-1820 revival under the ministry of the Rev. Asahel Nettleton. FPC was involved in the formation of Union College (Schenectady), and its first president, the widely respected the Rev. John Blair Smith, served as FPC pastor. Jonathan Edwards the younger was Union’s second president and is buried in the FPC churchyard. Other early ministers achieved wide renown in their subsequent pastorates. FPC elders, Alexander Kelly and Nehemiah Bassett, participated in General Assemblies and served in committee. New churches were planted and benevolence ministries started. The wooden building was replaced by a brick one in 1809 that was subsequently enlarged and is still in use today. Three godly ministers, whose pastorates together spanned from 1832 to 1921, brought blessing and advance to the church. But theological liberalism swept Presbyterian churches in upstate New York in the early 1900s, and two liberal ministers served FPC in the 1920s and 30s. God answered the prayers of faithful church members and brought Dr. Herbert Mekeel to minister in 1937. With considerable difficulty, God used him to turn the church back to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The following years brought advancement to the church at home and wide outreach to the world. Many men entered the ministry; missionaries were sent out; churches were planted; a Christian camp and a Christian school were started; and the evangelical cause was advanced during Mekeel’s 42 years’ pastorate. In May 1975, FPC petitioned Presbytery to be transferred to another denomination. That request having failed, the congregation voted in January 1977 to dissolve all relationships with the Presbytery of Albany. God provided the means of securing the property through an 1828 provision in the New York State Religious Corporation Law. It was not until December 1984 when the Supreme Court settled the matter. FPC joined the PCA on Sept. 29th, 1989.