This section begins with a brief overview of early Presbyterian history in Europe and Colonial America and then covers local church history in the Elk Rapids area.
In western Europe, the authority of the Roman Catholic Church remained largely unquestioned until the Renaissance in the 15th century. The invention of the printing press in Germany around 1440 made it possible for common people to have access to printed materials including the Bible. This, in turn, enabled many to discover religious thinkers who had begun to question the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. One such figure, Martin Luther, a German priest and professor, started the movement known as the Protestant Reformation when he posted a list of 95 grievances against the Roman Catholic Church on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517.
Some 20 years later, a French/Swiss theologian, John Calvin, further refined the reformers’ new way of thinking about the nature of God and God’s relationship with humanity in what came to be known as Reformed theology. John Knox, a Scotsman who studied with Calvin in Geneva, Switzerland, took Calvin’s teachings back to Scotland. Other Reformed communities developed in England, Holland and France. The Presbyterian church traces its ancestry back primarily to Scotland and England.
Presbyterians have featured prominently in United States history. The Rev. Francis Makemie, who arrived in the U.S. from Ireland in 1683, helped to organize the first American Presbytery at Philadelphia in 1706. In 1726, the Rev. William Tennent founded a ministerial ‘log college’ in Pennsylvania. Twenty years later, the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton University) was established. Other Presbyterian ministers, such as the Rev. Jonathan Edwards and the Rev. Gilbert Tennent, were driving forces in the so-called “Great Awakening,” a revivalist movement in the early 18th century. One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the Rev. John Witherspoon, was a Presbyterian minister and the president of Princeton University from 1768-1793.
Grand Traverse area Presbyterianism had its beginnings with the missionary work of The Rev. Peter Dougherty in the 1830’s. His school for the Indians was started in Elk Rapids. A few months later it was moved to Old Mission Peninsula, eventually to be relocated in Omena. Later, a Presbyterian Church was established at Yuba, known as East Bay Presbyterian Church. The Rev. Joshua B. Hall, a native of New York began work with a nucleus of Elk Rapids residents in 1870 as well as serving the Yuba church as its pastor.
Under the leadership of Rev. Hall and his wife Eugenia, those first Session members and parishioners, who demonstrated an intense determination and focused commitment, began the work in July 1873 of constructing and crafting the place of worship that generations of Elk Rapids Presbyterians have so much enjoyed and treasured.
By July 1873, our present church building at 404 Spruce Street was under construction, only to be stopped by the Panic of 1873. On June 18, 1874, the Presbytery of Grand Rapids, meeting in the Court House in Elk Rapids, authorized the official beginning of our church,. It was called the First Presbyterian Society of Elk Rapids. Work was resumed in 1877 and our church building was completed and dedicated in September of 1878.
Over the years, many improvements and changes have been made by this congregation of faith to enhance our mission and purpose of worshipping God and ministering to others in His name. As our church continued to grow, it became necessary to provide more space for education and fellowship. Again, as in 1874, our people rose to the challenge and, in 1969, the new addition was put into service , being dedicated to the loving memory of the Reverend Dr. H. M. Markley.
It was in 1988, after much prayer, study, and discussion, that many dedicated members and friends of First Presbyterian Church’s growing and expanding congregation felt the leading of God to step out by far to provide more room for worship and community ministry.
In the ensuing years, as our congregation and ministry has continued to grow, our church family has encouraged and faithfully supported the addition of a Director of Christian Education, a Director of Youth Ministries, an Associate Pastor, the purchase and expansive reconstruction of the FPC Lighthouse as well as another addition to the church itself.
By God’s grace we will continue praying, working and worshipping together to proclaim the Good News of salvation and abundant life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Former Pastors of First Presbyterian Church of Elk Rapids
1870-1878 Rev. Joshua B. Hall
1879-1880 Rev. Rufus W. Fletcher
1881-1884 Rev. Luther M. Belden
1885-1887 Rev. Joshua W. Wolf
1889-1890 Rev. Charles Daniels
1893-1897 Rev. Dr. J. Payton Mills
1899-1901 Rev. Louis S. Brooke
1901-1904 Rev. William H. Long
1905-1906 Rev. Milo N. Wood
1907-1911 Rev. Edward H. Vail
1911-1913 Rev. Charles Daniels
1913-1915 Rev. Harry Chamberlain
1915-1928 Rev. Charles Daniels
1928-1931 Rev. Edward H. Vail
1931-1932 Rev. George Moore
1932-1946 Rev. George Atkinson
1946-1962 Rev. Harry M. Markley
1963-1968 Rev. Ronald Kinsey
1968-1972 Rev. James Lyman
1973-1985 Rev. Barney D. Roepcke
1986-1989 Rev. Scott C. Fischer
1991-2008 Rev. Dr. Daniel K. Herlein
1999 – 2011 Rev. Sandra K. Murray
2011-2015 Rev. Andrew (Andy) Martinez
2012-2015 Rev. Christian Johnson (assoc.)