The history of Midland’s First Presbyterian Church is a splendid example of determination, spirit and faith.
In 1881, The Texas and Pacific Railroad began extension of its line from Fort Worth to El Paso. The point halfway between was a watering station named Midway. A group of townspeople plotted the town, changed its name to Midland and began selling lots in 1885. By the end of 1885, abundant grassland, farmers and cattlemen had created a thriving town with several hundred residents, a courthouse; two hotels and several merchants. Members of all Protestant denominations worshipped together in the towns schoolhouse.
On October 19, 1885, the Dallas Presbytery appointed a committee “to organize churches at Midland and Big Spring and anywhere in the region adjacent to these, if the way be clear.”
In 1895, administration of the area was transferred to the Fort Worth Presbytery which dissolved Midlands First Presbyterian on April 16, 1897; “the reason being it had become entirely disorganized by removal of members and otherwise.” The only member remaining and no story of Midland’s First Presbyterian Church could be complete without special attention to Winslow Watts and his wife, Margaret.
At the turn of the century, many of the pioneer families had arrived in Midland. Citizens of Midland enjoyed barbecues, rodeos, Fourth of July celebrations and gatherings that were expressions of the neighborly attitudes of the pioneer days in the West.
As the town grew and prospered, Mr. Watts who had learned from experience the need of a church building to tie a group together permanently, accepted the challenge to build a church home. Lots were bought from the Midland Town Company, May 20, 1884 for $150 and were sold to the trustees for Midland Presbyterian Church on August 17, 1899 for $200.
On November 29, 1899, the church, now known as the First Presbyterian Church of Midland was organized and a building completed and dedicated on May 27, 1900.
For the following years, the Church had several pastors who came and went and many visiting pastors as well as pastors who divided their sermon time among several West Texas churches. The church struggled through the Depression. But with the discovery of Oil in West Texas, the entire appearance of Midland changed. From this time until now, the growth of First Presbyterian Church of Midland has been a reflection of the city’s development.
In November, 1931, pastor Rev. W.J. Coleman began a ministry that lasted ten years. When Rev. Coleman and his wife arrived in Midland in November, 1931, Midland had changed to a city with paved streets, a skyscraper, hotels, banks and a public library and parks. In 1937, a movement was begun to build a more adequate church plant and on March 25, 1937 the property at the corner of Texas and A streets was purchased and the cornerstone was laid on October 31. As was tradition, the cornerstone had sealed various articles such as church bulletins, a brief historical sketch of the church, a list of members and other items. The building cost $38,000 and was completed with a pipe organ which was dedicated on February 20, 1938. The first service in the new church was held December 12, 1937.
In November, 1947, the Rev. R. Matthew Lynn arrived in Midland to find his new pastorate well organized, debt free and with an active membership of 489. The Church also was well advanced in the plans to enlarge the building facilities. On July 4, 1948, a contract was authorized to add 18,000 square feet to the Church facilities.
The construction was completed and accepted on July 21, 1949. The new structure was dedicated May 2, 1954.
During the growth period of First Presbyterian Church, it leaders have also grown in stature within the Presbyterian Synod and Presbytery. Beginning with Dr. Lynn in the early 1960s, members have served as General Assembly representatives to World and National Councils or conventions, as officers of the Midland Presbyterian Foundation, the M.S. Dickerson Medical Missionary Foundation, as Trustees of Austin College, the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, the Schreiner Institute, Mo-Ranch, the Presbyterian Home and School and as Directors of the Presbyterian Foundation, the Synod of Texas and Committee Members of the Synod Council, the Synod of Texas, the Synod’s Christian Education Committee and the General Assembly’s “Men of the Church.”
1963 was a good and fruitful year for Midland’s First Presbyterian Church. The new Sanctuary, Fellowship Hall and Sunday School classrooms had been dedicated. Membership at the beginning of the year was 1504 and 1539 at the end of the year with 56 new members acquired through profession of faith. A capital fund drive with a goal of $750,000 was approved by the congregation.
The congregation chose to become a sponsor of Midland Presbyterian Homes jointly with Retirement Housing Foundation of Los Alamitos, California. Trinity Towers and Manor Park are the results of that vote.
In 1964, the Presbyterian denomination at large was deeply involved and concerned with the Civil Rights movement and the implementation of its policies. PCUS officially supported the then pending legislation in Washington and adopted positions with regard to peaceful demonstrations and under extreme circumstances, civil disobedience. To clarify the church’s position, the Directory of Worship included the statement, “No one shall be excluded from participation in public workship in the Lord’s house the the grounds of race, color, or class.”
In 1965, the Presbytery adopted a resolution concerning the church’s role in race relations. The church held that every ruling and teaching elder would apply himself toward building a better society where every person is accorded the quality of life due him as a child of God and a citizen of this nation.
In 1966, America was again embroiled in controversy which also affected the church. In 1966, the General Assembly approved a policy statement on the Vietnam war which recognized a difference of Christian viewpoint on the war and put its stamp of approval upon a course of action which it hoped would help bring peace and growing justice and freedom to the territories of Vietnam. Also, at this time, the Assembly undertook an intense and thorough study of the problems and possibilities of future relationship of the southern and northern Presbyterian churches. The Assembly elected to become a full participant in the Consultation on Church Union which involved many denominations in exploring the possibility of union into an interdenominational church.