The below article was written by Dr. Eugene Murphey and was published in The Tower newsletter of April 2006.
As we continue to explore the history of our church, both local and universal, we have for the past thirteen segments looked at the history and meaning of the stained glass windows in the sanctuary and hallways. In the last window near the rear of the sanctuary on the west side, we previously noted several men who were highly important in the growth and development of Christian faith and our denomination.
One of these men was Francis Makemie who has been called ‘The Father of American Presbyterianism.’ He is seen in the middle of the window panel. He was a native of Northern Ireland, born in the mid 1600;s, educated in Scotland, ordained in Ireland and shortly afterward sent as a missionary preacher to the colonies. he settled in Virginia but traveled and preached extensively along the eastern seaboard, especially from North Carolina to Maryland and also into the West Indies. His marriage to a wealthy landowner’s daughter probably gave him the financial means to carry his work farther afield. In March 1706 Makemie and a small group of ministers organized the first presbytery, probably meeting in the Buttonwood Church built in Philadelphia in 1704. Makemie was elected the first moderator, and he and the other ministers – and later elders – are reported to have set about the arduous task of finding clergy and financial support from England, Scotland, and Ireland. Incidentally, this should give our pastoral search committee reassurance that even in 1706 the job of finding a minister was not easy.
In 1708 Francis Makemie went on a preaching mission along the upper east coast and into New York where he was arrested by then-governor Lord Cornbury for preaching without a license although he had a valid license for other colonies. he was confined to jail for two months and although finally acquitted, he was forced by the governor to pay heavy court costs. He died the following year probably due in part to the stress of his trial and imprisonment. We are told that in spite of his death, the presbytery prospered and grew in size and influence due both to Makemie’s leadership and to the rapid increase in immigrants who were mostly of Scotch and Irish origin.
If you have not read the current (March) issue of Presbyterians Today, I encourage you to do so. On the cover is a great picture of our current Moderator of the General Assembly, Rich Ufford-Chase, who was also our guest minister several weeks ago. An excellent and informative interview by Editor Eva Stimson is also included inside. In addition, Associate Editor John Sniffen has written an intensely interesting and informative article entitled ‘Presbyterians in America,’ in anticipation of the celebration later this year of the 300th anniversary of the first presbytery in America. Much of the historical information about Francis Makemie in y above discussion was summarized from John Sniffen’s article which carries the following title and subtitle: ‘1706. 300 years ago at the first presbytery meeting in America, our ancestors put aside differences in favor of unified witness.’
-Eugene M. Murphey, M.D.