First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant has deep roots in the Erie, Pennsylvania community. Both divisions and mergers of significant Presbyterian congregations dominate the history of the church. Dedicated individuals organized First Presbyterian Church on February 14, 1815. They purchased property on the corner of 5th Street and Peach Street in 1825. Over the years, several churches sprung forth from First Presbyterian Church, including Belle Valley in 1841, Park Church in 1855, and Central Church in 1871.
In the summer of 1926, three strong, independent downtown Presbyterian churches—First Presbyterian Church, Park Church, and Central Church—met to discuss the possible reuniting of their congregations for the purpose of advancing the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in downtown Erie. After much deliberation, in late 1926, the congregation of First Presbyterian Church decided to not proceed with the merger.
The congregations of the remaining two churches met separately, but concurrently, on March 9, 1927, and voted to proceed with the merger by giving a universal approval to the development of a carefully devised plan for union. Upon completion of a new church building, the plan called for the congregation of Park Church, formerly located at South Perry Square, to unite with the congregation of Central Church, formerly located at Tenth and Sassafras Streets, across Sassafras Street from St. Peter Cathedral,. The two churches formed a committee consisting of four members from each congregation with an independent chairman. Known as the “Committee of Nine,” the churches empowered this group to devise a detailed “Plan of Union,” to purchase land, and to make financial arrangements to build a new church edifice. The Committee ultimately purchased land that stretched from Sixth to Seventh Streets near the intersections with Myrtle Street.
On April 13, 1927, the Sessions of both churches adopted petitions for presentation to the Presbytery of Lake Erie at its meeting of April 19, 1927. The petitions requested that the Presbytery approve the uniting of the two congregations in accordance with the Plan of Union. While the Plan of Union intended that the formal merger would not take place until the completion of the new edifice, an orderly process of combining the two congregations progressed with such care that Presbytery approved them to actually merge on February 8, 1929, under the new name of “Church of the Covenant.”
The united congregation recorded an initial membership of 1,804 people. On June 16, 1929, the newly formed congregation celebrated the laying of the cornerstone for the new church building.
The congregation welcomed the installation of the Reverend Dr. Ralph Marshall Davis, as the first minister. On November 16, 1930, over 3,000 worshipers attended three services in the new sanctuary. Almost a month later, on December 14, 1930, the congregation celebrated the dedication of the new church building.
In the spring of 1979, a member of First Presbyterian Church approached Dr. John Bathgate, Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Lake Erie, to see if discussions could be entertained regarding merger of First Presbyterian Church and the Church of the Covenant. Dr. Bathgate proceeded to hold discussions with the pastors of the two churches, Dr. J. Edward Paul of First Presbyterian Church and Dr. Lewis M. Evans of the Church of the Covenant. The pastors consulted with their respective Sessions. As a result, three members were elected from each church to join with representatives from the Presbytery to pursue discussions regarding merger of the two churches. Meetings began on May 5, 1980 and concluded with joint congregational meetings on October 5, 1980 when the two congregations voted to merge. The two congregations celebrated their union on January 4, 1981, during the 11:00 a.m. worship service at the Church of the Covenant building. The new church became known as the “First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant,” or more commonly, “First Covenant.” Gannon University purchased the former First Presbyterian Church building for use as their chapel.
The pastor of the former First Presbyterian Church, the Reverend J. Edward Paul, became the Associate Pastor of the united congregation. He joined with the Rev. Dr. Lewis M. Evans, pastor of the former Church of the Covenant, who would serve as Senior Pastor of the united congregation.
The 50th Anniversary celebration of Church of the Covenant in December of 1980, and the merger with First Presbyterian Church in January of 1981, heralded a significant program of remodeling and renovation. The congregation celebrated the completion of this project in the fall of 1983.
During the ensuing years, since the merger in 1981, First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant has continued the long tradition of significant ministry in downtown Erie. The proximity of the church to the campus of Gannon University, and the many cultural centers of downtown Erie, give our church a unique place of outreach and service to the community.
While many urban churches throughout the United States have experienced times of eroding membership, First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant continues to provide a growing and vibrant witness to the life-transforming power of the Lord Jesus Christ in the center of Erie’s downtown district. If you would like more information about First Covenant email us at [email protected] or call the FPCC church office at 814-456-4243.