The earliest Presbyterians in this area, with family names of Cunningham, Garrad, Hemphill, and Bradbury, established in 1849 the Olney Presbyterian Church located about three miles north of present day French Camp. Rev. G.W. Boggs served as the first pastor, and the church met in the schoolhouse located on the Cumberland Presbyterian Campground.
It wasn’t long, however, before the little congregation went in search of a more convenient location. In 1854 they relocated to the village of French Camp where they shared a building with several other denominations. In 1869 under the leadership of Rev. A.H. Mecklin, the church name was changed to French Camp Presbyterian. In 1874 the congregation erected their own house of worship.
The present sanctuary was built in 1910, and the educational building was added in 1958. A complete renovation and expansion of the facility was undertaken in 1988. The capital campaign to fund this project was launched as a memorial to Rev. Sam Patterson, beloved pastor and former president of French Camp Academy who had died in 1987. From March to November of 1989 the congregation worshipped in the FCA auditorium.
During that time the church’s seating capacity was expanded from 200 to 350, a pastor’s office was added, and the educational wing was extended and connected to the sanctuary creating space for a kitchen, bathrooms, and a fellowship hall. In 2000 the Church acquired the adjacent Curtis property and house; it currently provides space for four more Sunday School classes. Plans are underway for further expansion on that property.
In 1938 a manse was built for Rev. O.W. Wardlaw; it served the church until it was sold to FCA in 1986. In 1996 the church purchased the historic Downing /Taylor house on Main Street where Rev. Lane Stephenson and his family lived for ten years. When the church called Rev. Alex Coblentz in 2008, the current manse was purchased together with the adjoining corner property on Mecklin Avenue. The Downing/Taylor house was sold to FCA.
French Camp Presbyterian Church has throughout its history maintained a sound biblical faith and a conservative witness in the reformed tradition, with a specific focus on supporting the staff and students of French Camp Academy. As members of the PCUS (Southern Presbyterian) denomination, the membership of this congregation viewed with great concern the drift toward liberalism, and the eventual merger with the northern church to form the PCUSA in 1983 only continued this trend. Therefore, in 2006 under the leadership of a united and committed Session, the church petitioned The Presbytery of St. Andrew (PCUSA) for dismissal to the Mississippi Valley Presbytery (ARP). In answer to much prayer the Lord allowed the church to leave the PCUSA with its property to join the Associate Reformed Presbyterian denomination. This has proven to be a great blessing as we now fellowship with those of like mind and heart. French Camp was officially received into the ARP in June 2007.
This church has been blessed through the years with strong leadership on the Session. The elders who led the church into the ARP were: Sam Allen, Glen Barlow, Talmage Branning, Bruce Broomfield, John Cockrell, Fred Davenport, Jack Johnson, Larry Littlejohn, Billy Prewitt, David Vincent, Lewis Ward, and Tommy Ward. In God’s sovereign wisdom and mercy, four of these men are now in glory, two have relocated to other Presbyterian churches, and Lewis Ward now serves in an emeritus capacity.
Likewise the Women of the Church have been blessed since the 1880s with strong leadership. The death of Helen Branning in December 2009 signaled the passing of an era in the life of the church. Helen had served as president of the women’s work for 35 years. For many of those years Nita Curtis was vice president, and Florence Broomfield was treasurer. Marilyn Johnson continues to serve as secretary and historian. A transitional team recently wrote a Constitution for the Women’s Ministries, and the women launched a renewed effort to reach all the women who worship and serve in this congregation.
French Camp Presbyterian Church today is rooted firmly in the truth of Scripture and the traditions of our Presbyterian forefathers. In obedience to the Great Commission of Matthew 28, we have a renewed vision for outreach and missions not only in this community, but also in the world-at-large. Our passion is to let Jesus be seen in our daily lives, to offer opportunities for worship, ministry, and service in His name, and to bring glory to God in His church.
Pastors who have served this congregation:
- G.W. Boggs – 1849-1850
- J.H. Bardwell – 1850-1853
- J. Rosamond – 1854-1855
- James H. Alexander – 1856-1860
- A.H. Aughey – 1860-1862
- Augustus H. Mecklin – 1862-1913
- F.L. McCue* – 1913, 1915-1918
- K.H. Thompson – 1914-15
- S.H. McBride – 1918-1928
- J.C. Stewart – 1928-1938
- O.W. Wardlaw – 1938-1948
- J.H. Laster* – 1948-1949
- Oran W. Siglar – 1951-1952
- Sam Patterson* – 1952-1986 (with interludes as noted below)
- J.H. Thompson – 1954-1955
- Lee Gentry* – 1959-1960
- Rich Cannon* – 1978-1979
- Stuart Angle* – 1983-1984, 1987-1988
- Russell Nunan* – 1988-1991
- “Pete” McElrath – 1991-1995
- Lane Stephenson – 1996-2006
- J. Alex Coblentz -2008-
*Supply or Stated Supply