The persons who first constituted the Central Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia had previously belonged to the Second Presbyterian Church, worshipping at the corner of Third and Arch streets.
During the ministry of the Rev. Joseph Sanford, divisions arose in that church, which were greatly increased by his sudden, and lamented death, on the 25th of December, 1831. These divisions finally led the friends of Mr. Sanford, feeling themselves deeply aggrieved, to resolve to withdraw; and committing their cause to Providence, to attempt the organization of a new congregation.
The congregation was accordingly organized, May 21st., 1832, in the Franklin Institute, in Seventh street, the Rev. Aaron W. Leland, D. D., of Charleston, S. C., presiding. The church was organized on the 19th of June following, in the Whitefield Academy, in Fourth street. On this occasion, the Rev. Thomas McAulcy, D. D., then pastor of the Tenth Church of this city, presided; and was assisted by the Rev. William Neill, D. D., and the Rev. William M. Englcs. At this meeting Mr. Alexander Ilenry and Mr. Matthew L. Bevan, who had been ruling elders in the Second Church, were elected and installed ruling ciders of the infant Central Church. The Church was organized with nineteen members, all on certificate from the Second Church. On the Sabbath following, (June 24th,) the sacrament of the Lord's Supper was administered for the first time to this infant Church, by the Rev. Thomas McAuley, D D., and the Rev. John Breckinridge.
The congregation continued to worship in the Academy in Fourth street, which was kindly loaned to them by the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, until they erected a house of worship. The second communion season was in October, 1832, at which time the church received an addition of 127 members, all of them on certificate from the Second Church, except one on examination, and four from other churches.
While in their infant state, and without a stated pastor, it pleased the Lord graciously to grant to this people a season of special refreshing from his presence. As the fruits of this season, there were added to the church at the. communion in December, 1832, on examination twenty-four; and at the communion in March following, six.
February 5th, 1833, the congregation was incorporated, by the name, style, and title of The Central Presbyterian Church in the City of Philadelphia. The Charter vests the property of the congregation in
fifteen trustees, who are chosen for three years; and it fixes the election to be held on the first Tuesday in January in each year, when one third of the Board is to be clected.
In regard to voting for the several officers of the church and congregation, the Charter contains the following Article. Article 8th, "All regular worshippers in this church shall be entitled to vote for Trustees and Pastors, provided they have held a pew, or part of a pew for twelve months preceding the election, by the payment of an annual rent, of not less than two dollars for the same, into the treasury of the church, and who shall not be twelve months in arrear at the time of said election;—but Elders and Deacons shall be chosen by the communicating members exclusively.
The uses to which the Church edifice may be appropriated are regulated by Article 9 of the Charter, as follows:—"The building of the said church shall, at all times, be at the disposal of the Session thereof, and never be used merely for political purposes."
On the 22d day of April, 1833, the conicr stone of the church edifice was laid with religious solemnity by the Rev. John Breckinridge. Immediately after this act, on the same day, the congregation assembled, and clected to be their pastor, the Rev. John McDowell, D. D., then pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Elizabeth Town, N. J. The call thus voted was accepted ; and Dr. McDowell was installed pastor, by the Presbytery of Philadelphia, on the (5th of June following. The installation services were performed in the Whitefield Acadcmy. Tlic sermon was preached by the Rev. William M. Engles from 2 Corinthians, v. 20; the Rev. William Neill, D. D. presided, and proposed the constitutional questions to the pastor and people ; the Rev. Samuel Miller, D. D. of Princeton, N. J. gave the charge to the pastor; and the Rev. John Breckinridge gave the charge to the congregation.
Previous to the settlement of a pastor, the congregation was supplied with preaching by ministers, procured from week to week by the Session; and it is worthy of particular remark, and should be recorded with thankfulness to God, that the people during the year they had no pastor, were never in a single instance without a minister to officiate on the Sabbath, and also at the weekly lecture on Wednesday evening. For the supply of their pulpit, the people were peculiarly indebted to the Rev. John Breckinridge, and the Rev. Robert Baird, who located their families with them; and also to Mr. Rezeau Brown, since early called to his rest. For about two months in the latter part of the time, they were favoured with the stated services of the Rev. Asahel Nettleton.
January 16th, 1834, the church met and elected three additional ruling ciders; viz. John V. Cowell, Matthew Newkirk, and David Kirkpatrick; and they were ordained as ruling ciders, January 26th, 1834.
On Sabbath, February 23d, 1834, the church cdifice, which was then completed, was opened for the worship of God. On this occasion, the pastor preached in the morning from Isaiah lx. 13: " The glory of Lebanon
shall come unto thee, the fir tree, the pine tree, and the box together, to beautify the place of my sanctuary; and. I will make the place of my feet glorious." The Rev. Samuel Miller, D. D. preached in the afternoon from 2 Chronicles, vi. 18: " But will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth? Behold, heaven, and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built." In the evening the Rev. William Neill, D. D. preached from Revelation xxii. 17, last clause: " Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely."
The church edifice stands on the corner of Eighth and Cherry streets; and is built of stone, rough cast with a granite appearance. Its dimensions are eighty-six feet in length, and sixty-eight feet in breadth, besides a portico in front twelve feet three inches wide, supported by six columns. The house is lighted in the evening by a large circular reflector, ten feet three inches diameter. This reflector is suspended in the centre of the ceiling, and contains forty-one lamps or burncrs. It was the first of the kind in this country; and affords a very clear, soft, and brilliant light.
In the rear of the main edifice, and connected with it, is a building of the same materials, fifty-three feet in length, by forty-seven feet nine inches in breadth, and three stories high. The first story is the Lccture Room; the second is divided into two apartments, and is appropriated to Sabbath Schools; the third is one room, and is also appropriated to a Sabbath School. The number of scholars now belonging to the several Sabbath Schools connected with the church, including the Infant School, is 476.
On this congregation, from its commencement, a kind Providence has appeared specially to smile. In a temporal respect it has been signally prospered. Though small in its beginning, it has already become large. Every pew in the lower part of the house, and also a considerable portion of the pews in the gallery, are taken.
At an early period of their existence, before they had a settled pastor, and while they were yet a little band, the congregation resolved to support one missionary in the foreign field. The management of this missionary concern was committed to the Session of the church; and the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, was chosen as the channel through which to carry on their missionary operations. The Session have selected as their missionary, Mr. Mattbur B. Hope, a licentiate of the Presbytery of Huntingdon, who finished his theological course in the seminary at Princeton last fall, and who has since been pursuing medical studies in this city. Mr. Hope has worshipped with us through the winter, and has frequently led in the religious services, and has acquired the confidence and affection of the congregation. He is destined, as soon as he has finished his medical course, to the great empire of China. The sum which the congregation are pledged to the American Board to raise
for the support of a missionary in the foreign field is $600 annually, while they continue connected with the Board.
A number of the children have, from the commencement of the congregation, been organized into an Education Society, and have applied their funds for the support of a young man, a member of the church, in his preparation for the gospel ministry.
The whole number of communicants which have joined the Central Church from its commencement to the present time (April 1,1835) is 360. Of these, 60 have joined on examination, and 300 on certificate. Nine of the members have died, and 10 have been dismissed to join other churches. The present number of communicants is 341. The whole number of baptisms have been 14 adults and 49 children.
1. "Sketch of the History of the Central Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia," Manual of the Central Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, Penn. Compiled and Published by Order of the Session, April 1, 1835, pages 3-9.