Presbyterian Church of Kansas

Presbyterian Church in Fort Scott, Kansas.

Presbyterian Church in Fort Scott, Kansas.

Presbyterianism is a church government by church presbyters or a body of elders. John Calvin is usually regarded as the founder of the Presbyterian church, as he organized the Reformed church, which is similar to the Presbyterian, but church government by a body of elders had been started by the Waldenses much earlier. All Presbyterian churches are generally Calvinistic in doctrine. The first efforts toward church organization were made at Edinburg, Scotland, on December 3, 1557, when some of the powerful Scottish barons and lesser nobility signed “The First Covenant.” The Presbyterian church became the established church of Scotland, and from it, other Presbyterian bodies withdrew from time to time, but all were practically the same in principles. In England the organization took the name of Presbyterian church of England. The Irish church was organized in 1642 and established in Wales in 1735.

In the New World the Presbyterian church was established in the colonies by refugees from Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany and Holland, who fled to America to avoid persecutions. The Presbyterian colony of Massachusetts Bay was started in 1625. Four years later more colonist arrived and a church was established under Samuel Skelton. Francis Doughty, an English Presbyterian minister, went from New England to Long Island in 1642 and a year later to New York, where he was the first Presbyterian to preach, but no church was organized until 1717. An Irish minister by the name of Francis Mackemie, organized some of the early Presbyterian churches in Virginia and Maryland: Presbyterian churches were founded in New Jersey and at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and in 1716, the synod of Philadelphia was formed, consisting of four presbyteries, having 17 ministers and 17 churches. In 1729, the synod adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith, but ten years later dissension began and in 1741 two synods were formed — the Old Side, or synod of Philadelphia, and the New Side, or synod of New York.

At the beginning of the American Revolution, the Presbyterian church was one of the three leading religious organizations in the colonies, and the church was growing so rapidly that there were not enough ministers to supply all congregations. During the war, the Presbyterians were consistent in their support of religious and civil liberty, and John Witherspoon, a prominent Presbyterian minister, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. In May, 1788, the general assembly was formed, consisting of four synods — New York and New Jersey, Philadelphia, Virginia and the Carolinas — and included 17 presbyteries and 419 congregations.

First Presbyterian Church in Leavenworth, Kansas, courtesy Wikipedia.

First Presbyterian Church in Leavenworth, Kansas, courtesy Wikipedia.

In 1837, the church was divided into the Old and New School Presbyterians. This was followed by dissensions that arose over the question of slavery in the early 1850s. In 1853, six synods, 21 presbyteries, and some 15,000 southern members seceded from the assembly and formed the United Synod of the Presbyterian Church. Five years later, the southern portion of the New School church seceded, and the united synod of the Presbyterian Church South was formed with 100 ministers and some 200 churches.

The Presbyterian church was the pioneer organization to begin work in what is now the State of Kansas. As early as 1820, while the country west of the Missouri River was still unorganized Indian territory, two missions were established among the Osage Indians. When Kansas was organized as a territory, and the country was thrown open to white settlers, the Presbyterian church already had a habitation in the land. On January 1, 1856, one of the first churches in the state was established at Leavenworth by C.D. Martin. A.W. Pitzer was the first minister, and a building was erected there in 1857. The Presbyterians of Doniphan County formed a society at Doniphan in 1856.

Presbyterian Church in Independence, Kansas.

Presbyterian Church in Independence, Kansas.

A Presbyterian church was organized at Wyandotte (now Kansas City) in 1857 and continued until the close of the war when it disbanded but was reorganized in 1881. In the summer of 1857, the general synod of the Reformed Presbyterian church sent B.L. Baldridge to Kansas. He arrived at Leavenworth in July, began at once to hold services, and organized a congregation the next month. On October 21, 1858, a church was formed at Atchison by a committee of the Highland Presbytery, but no regular services were held there until 1860. Missionaries entered Johnson County in 1858, the best known being J.C. Beach, A.T. Rankin, and William Smith. In 1865, the Reformed or Covenanter Church was formed at Olathe, the first of its kind in the state. The first pastor was W. W. McMillan. The Old School Presbyterian Church was organized in the summer of 1858 at Lawrence with 25 members by William Wilson, and in 1864, the New School Presbyterian Church was organized there. This was followed three years later by the United Presbyterian Church, with J.C. Herron as pastor. A.T. Rankin, of the Highland presbytery, organized the Presbyterian Church in Topeka on February 15, 1859, with 17 members and a year later the church was incorporated. Mr. Rankin established the Presbyterian Church at Fort Scott in 1859, and the town company donated two lots for church property, where a building was erected in 1865. At Junction City a church was organized in 1860 but no building was erected until 1868. During the early 1860s, churches were organized in Jefferson, Johnson, Franklin, Jackson, Miami, and Allen Counties and at Emporia, Lyon County. Some claim that the first church was organized about 1840, near the site of the present city of Ottawa, before the territory was organized, but no records can be found to substantiate the statement. It was probably a mission. It is known that William Hamilton and S.M. Irvin of the Highland Presbytery in 1843 organized a church. In 1875, there were 39 church organizations in Kansas, with 14 churches and a membership of 1,313. In 1890, there were 495 organizations, having 356 churches and a membership of 29,778 and in 1906 the Presbyterian church ranked fifth in number of members of all denominations in Kansas, having 40,765 members.

Compiled and edited by Kathy Alexander/Legends of Kansas, updated March 2024.

About the Article: The text in this article comes from Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, edited by Frank W. Blackmar and published in 1912. However, the story as it appears here is not verbatim, as it has been edited for clarity and the modern reader.


Also See:

Churches of Kansas

Kansas Destinations

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