Tulsa Church Celebrates History and Future

Sep 19, 2012

Tulsa’s first Presbyterian Church downtown, has just wrapped up a multimillion dollar expansion project. First Church, as its members called it, is the oldest church in Tulsa tracing its roots back to J.M. Hall’s General Store when the first sermon was preached back in 1883. Pastor James Miller says the renovations will mean the Church will serve Tulsa for at least another 100 years.

“The facility that we worship in and we gather in was built about 90 year ago, which means that it had all the aging issues of a 90 year old structure,” says Pastor James Miller. “Part of this effort that we undertook was to comprehensively bring restoration to the current and existing facility. That is expensive, and it is really important stuff that nobody’s really inspired to do, like heating and air conditioning systems, and electricity and lighting and all that. My prayer is that it will serve the city of Tulsa for 100 years.”

First Presbyterian is responsible for many of the civic and community institutions that we now have, including the Tulsa Public Schools.

Pastor James Miller says, “It was the Philadelphia Board of Foreign Missions Presbyterian Church out of Philadelphia sent to Indian Territory, believing that people in the hinterlands needed to know the Gospel. So they sent these people out, and they were equally committed to establishing a local worshiping community as they were to establishing local educational facilities.”

That mission school eventually became the Tulsa Public Schools. David Crowell is the unofficial historian at First Presbyterian; the church is also responsible for the University of Tulsa.

“I had the opportunity to get Henry Kendall College to move to Tulsa. He had been under financial difficulties, and they offered it. The board over there said they we’ll offer it to any city who will buy it,” says Crowell. “We ended up moving Henry Kendall College to Tulsa in 1907. Their first classes were held in the Sunday School room’s building that we had a little shed-type building.”

The Tulsa’s Boys Home, the YMCA, the Margaret Hudson Program, Camp Loughridge, all just a part of the original church outreach, but what is ahead? Pastor Miller says the need is great in Tulsa.

“We have investments in multiple entities. The Helping hand Ministry, out of the Bernsen building across the street from First Church, is one of the great common good service ministries in the city,” says Pastor James Miller. “I come at work at 7 o’clock, usually in the morning, and there are 20 or 30 people lined up every morning, Monday through Friday, because they are about to be evicted from their apartments, or their electricity is going to be cut off. So far this year, about $270,000 has been given out carefully and thoughtfully to people who are among the most needy in Tulsa.”

He says all of Tulsa’s faith community, not just his church, is very instrumental in helping the community and he says that’s as it should be.

“I think if the city Tulsa knew what the faith communities in Tulsa did behind the scenes, I have colleges in virtually every congregation in downtown, that I meet with for lunch and such, and when I hear about what they do, that I didn’t know they did, it would be a huge encouragement,” Pastor James Miller says. “ The Tulsa World can take several sections and just give good news regarding the kinds of the work for the common good that so many faith communities do, not obviously just First Church.