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LAFOLLETTE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH TRACES ITS ROOTS TO 1920S GATHERING OVER DRUG STORE

By Dallas Bogan

Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.  This article was published in the LaFollette Press.

At this time we shall feature a short history of the LaFollette First Presbyterian Church. Prior to this particular history, we find that the original Presbyterian Church traces its heritage back predominantly to Scotland and England.

Presbyterians have attributed much to the history of the United States. The Reverend Francis Mackemie arrived in the U.S. from Ireland in 1683 and helped to organize the first American Presbytery at Philadelphia in 1706. The Rev. John Witherspoon, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, was a Presbyterian minister. The Rev. William Tennent founded a ministerial "log college" in New Jersey that evolved into Princeton University.

The Rev. Jonathan Edwards and Rev. Gilbert Tennent were vital forces in the "Great Awakening," a revivalist faction in the early 18th century.

Splits have occurred in the United States Presbyterian churches, parts reuniting several times. The largest current group in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. has its national offices in Louisville, Ky. Formation of this union was in the year 1983 as a result of reunion between the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (UPCUSA), so-called the "southern branch," and the so-called "northern branch."

Other Presbyterian churches in the United States include the Presbyterian Church in America, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.

THE LAFOLLETTE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

A small group of worshippers gathered together in the hall over the old Winkler's Drug Store on Central Avenue in LaFollette in the early 1920s. At a later time, this congregation met at the old Congregational Church, which was located on Fifth and Walden, where regular worship services and Sunday school services were held. As time passed, this building was demolished and an apartment house now stands in its place.

Rev. B.M. Larson, then Superintendent of Home Missions for Knoxville Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church U.S., was called upon by the local church members for his assistance and leadership. Rev. Larson not only offered his expertise in this area, but he also served as a means in which to bring students from Maryville College to LaFollette to hold services.

A Commission of Knoxville Presbytery on November 22, 1922 formally created the new congregation. The official name for the worshippers was identified as the First Presbyterian Church. Historical documents found named First Member, Miss Mary R. Robertson; First Profession of Faith, Mr. Albert E. Ahler; and Fitst Infant Baptism, William D. Sharp.

Deliberations for the search of a permanent dwelling for the church building were begun on February 25, 1923. The building committee, which included Mrs. Robert L. Sharp, reported their purchase of a lot and offered a temporary plan for a structure.

The building committee conversed with Charles I. Barber, a Knoxville architect who stated that he had always had an interest in designing a small church and that no fee would be charged for his services. Soon Barber's plans became a reality and the New England Colonial Church was erected. The builder was John Godly, Jr., from Newcomb, Tennessee.

The first service in the new church was held on March 27, 1927, with Dr. T.S. McCallie of Chattanooga ministering the ceremony. (However, the church was not dedicated until May 27, 1928.) The Rev. E.L. McClurkan, who had been one of the originals to form the church in 1922, was the minister. The treasurer, W.D. Barton, at this service announced that the mortgage debt had been paid in full, the note being burned in the presence of the assemblage.

The congregation took in effect that a need for educational space was desired for the church school. And so, on July 18, 1954, the members took steps to fill this need. The plan was finalized and on May 15, 1961, the result was the McClurkan Memorial Parish, named in memory of the church's first pastor. This new addition housed a parlor, the pastor's study, a chapel, a fellowship hall, kitchen facilities, and classrooms.

A new manse was built in 1969 for the ministers. The adjoining property was purchased, the houses were torn down, and an attractive lawn was completed beside the church. Cost of this project was $29,000. The mortgage of the manse and property was burned as a part of the Fiftieth Anniversary Service in 1972.

The LaFollette church completed a magnificent renovation project in 1988. The sanctuary was now facing Depot Street. New pews were installed which increased the seating capacity from 120 to 230. The McClurkan Parish rooms were also changed to meet the most recent needs. This spacious project was dedicated to the glory of God in a special service on January 22, 1989. Leader of the service was Dr. Robert Ferguson of Knoxville.

The Knoxville Presbytery and The First Presbyterian Church of LaFollette became a part of the reunited Presbyterian Church, USA in 1983.

The First Presbyterian Church of LaFollette is located at 110 W. Ash Street, with the Rev. Malcolm M. King III serving as minister since August 16, 1991.

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