Collinsville's First United Presbyterian celebrates 190 years

News-DemocratApril 26, 2013 

First United Presbyterian Church is one of Collinsville's oldest churches and one of the most important in the city's history.

Members will celebrate their 190th anniversary at a worship service Sunday morning, followed by a luncheon in the fellowship hall.

"The church has seen many changes over the past 190 years," said the Rev. Ann Pitman, who has served as interim pastor for about a year.

"(Activities) have changed as needs have changed. Pastors have come and gone. The one thing that has not changed is the deep desire of our members to grow in their faith and to serve the Lord."

The church has about 150 members. It's on the corner of East Church and Morrison streets.

The church is best known in the community for operating a thrift shop, which serves hundreds of needy people each month; and for housing Collinsville Area Ministerial Association's food pantry.

"In terms of worship life, the church is known for its music," Pitman said. "We have a praise band. We have a music director (Alan "Bog" Bogovich) whose experience and expertise cover a wide range of music styles."

The church began as a Sunday school in the Meeting House in the Grove in 1818, the same year Illinois became a state. It was officially organized on May 3, 1823.

"First United Presbyterian has the distinction of being the oldest Presbyterian church in continuous existence in Madison County and is the sixth oldest in Illinois," according to a church history.

The organizing minister was the Rev. Salmon Giddings, a New Englander who had been sent west by the Connecticut Missionary Society. He arrived in St. Louis in 1816.

Giddings was instrumental in establishing 12 Presbyterian congregations, including those in Collinsville and Edwardsville. He married into the Collins family, for which Collinsville is named.

First United Presbyterian moved from the Meeting House to its current location in 1843, when members built a frame structure. That structure was replaced with a brick building in 1884. The current sanctuary and office space were dedicated on May 16, 1976.

"(The church) is a member congregation of the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy, named for the Collinsville church's founding pastor and Elijah Parish Lovejoy, the first martyr of the Civil War," the history states.

Glenwood Cemetery, Collinsville's oldest cemetery, was deeded to the church by the widow of William B. Collins, who donated the original 1-acre lot. It now covers 10 acres.

The church's Session runs the cemetery with help from Friends of Glenwood Cemetery, a group of historically minded residents. The earliest grave, that of Michael Squires, dates back to 1822.

Church members opened Collinsville Food Pantry more than 30 years ago. It grew and grew and eventually became a program of Collinsville Area Ministerial Association.

"The need has skyrocketed," Pitman said. "You come to the church (during food pantry hours), and that area is just packed with people waiting in line to get approved or to get food."

The thrift shop began as a ministry of the church's Presbyterian Women's organization. It sells donated clothing, shoes and household items from 3 to 7 p.m. on the last Tuesday of each month.

"It's just amazing what people can come in and purchase for a very minimal amount," Pitman said, noting proceeds fund mission projects.

First United Presbyterian has had 29 pastors in 190 years. Pitman came from Fort Wayne, Ind., to replace the Rev. Steve Artz, who retired after serving for eight years.

The church invites the public to worship services at 10 a.m. Sunday mornings. Services are broadcast at 11 a.m. on Fridays on Charter Cable Channel 18.

The church sends youths on mission trips each summer. They will return to New Orleans this year to continue helping residents recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

2013 will be a year of transition for the church. A pastor nominating committee is seeking a permanent replacement for Pitman, and Collinsville Area Ministerial Association hopes to move the food pantry into a larger space.

"There's still a reason and a purpose for this church's continued presence in the community," Pitman said. "It's just a matter of determining what it is."

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