History of Old First

History of Old First

Founded by German immigrants in 1727, Old First Reformed United Church of Christ has been part of the fabric of Philadelphia for over 280 years.
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Early Pioneers

1741

Franklin Square Burial Ground purchased from John Penn

1743

Property on Race St. below 4th purchased

September 24, 1747

Hexagonal church erected

old first history hexagon churchOur second pastor, the Rev. Michael Schlatter, who had been sent to America to “organize the ministers and congregations into a Coetus (synod),” had gathered and founded the German Reformed Church in America, that founding taking place in Old First’s Sanctuary on the corner of 4th and Races Streets. More information on the German Reformed Church is available on the UCC’s website.

1753

School built to educate boys and girls

1765

Old First’s Charter of incorporation

old first charter

1772

Hexagonal church torn down

1774

Second church building erected

old first history 1772 building

Our congregation replaced the small building with a larger Georgian/Federal meetinghouse style church built on adjacent property to accommodate their growing congregation.

1777

Pastor Casper Weyberg imprisoned by British during the American Revolution for preaching to Hessian solders.

Old first history pastor Weyberg

The British Army used the church as a hospital.

1790

“Crown” on the organ replaced with a federal eagle carved by David Tannenberg

1793 & 1798

Yellow fever epidemics take two of Old First’s pastors; the Rev. Herman Winkhaus and Rev. William Hendel die.

In this time pastors were the record keepers for their congregation so their deaths mean the only records we have from the epidemic are the headstones uncovered in Franklin Square Burial Ground

1806

Sunday School established

1813

Meetings of the Corporation recorded in English, before Old First was a German Speaking Church. This division of which language should be used caused a rift among the congregants.

1836

Second church building torn down. PA Supreme Court rules church cannot own graveyard in Franklin Square

1837

The third church building erected and dedicated at 4th & Race St.

Pictured is a pew rental card that would have been used by the congregation as a way to give to the church and reserve the best seats. The 1837 church is the one in use by our congregation today.

Urban Migration

1882

4th & Race buildings sold to John Lucas & Co. for paint warehouse.

old first history paint warehouse
Congregation worships in Handel & Haydn Hall

1884

The congregation decided to follow the migration of its members to 10th & Wallace where they built and dedicated a new church

old first history 10thWallace congregation

1916

Tenth & Wallace St. church sold.

10th wallace old first history
Congregation moves to West Philadelphia and worships in a movie theater

1925

The congregation followed its members once again—this time to 50th & Locust in West Philadelphia.

Returning Home

1966

Congregation votes to purchase original 4th & Race St. site and adjacent lots from the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority. The building, then vacant, had been in use as a paint warehouse for much of the early 20th century.

1967

Farewell service at 50th & Locust

1967-1971

Return to and restoration of 4th & Race St. church

1972

First Live Animal Christmas Crèche

1973

Summer Day Camp Begins

 

This was the first integrated program of it’s kind in Philadelphia. It was followed by the 1977 Summer Tot Lot day camp in Northern Liberties, and Everyone Reads day camp at Shot Tower

1975

Amistad II exhibit hosted at Old First

1975-1976

Gravestones unearthed in Franklin Square

1976

Dedication of Parish House/Christian Ed. building

1977

First Lenten Art Exhibition

For many years Old First held an annual art exhibition during Lent. The 1992 winner (above), by Sister Helen David is called “The Sheltering Cross,” and hangs in Old First’s social hall. 

1983

Congregation calls their first female pastor

1984

Ministry to the homelessOld First was the first church in Philadelphia to open its doors to provide overnight shelter to homeless Philadelphians. We continue that ministry today with a partnership with Bethesda Project and with our weekly food & clothing cupboard.

Volunteers from all over the region come in to prepare meals regularly. Find out how you can help by checking out volunteer opportunities in the Serve menu

1993

Celebratory burning of the mortgage on the buildings at 4th & Race.

1995

Congregation votes to be “Open and Affirming,” which recognized the congregation’s commitment to accepting all persons into full participation in the life of the church, without regard to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or economic circumstance.

1996

Parsonage is converted to office and classroom space

2009

Congregation calls its first openly gay pastor, Rev. Michael Caine.
Today: Serving the Community and the Region