First Presbyterian Church of Gainesville was established in 1827. Current membership exceeds 750 members. As part of the Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination, FPC is a member of a church family that includes over 11,000 churches nationwide and over 2.5 million members. Presbyterians have always seen themselves as part of the whole Christian family. Our congregation moved to its present location on South Enota Drive in 1976. The original facilities on this site were designed by the noted church architect, Harold E. Wagonerr. The stained glass windows in the sanctuary were designed by the renowned Willet Studios of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Between 1996 and 1997, a new fellowship hall, activities complex, offices, and additional educational space were completed. In 2010, a 3-manual 40 rank pipe organ which was added by Parkey Organbuilders as a gift from the late Joseph S. Hatfield.
OUR FAITH/WHAT WE BELIEVE
As Presbyterians we are rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ, who is the head of the church. We believe that Christ calls the church into being and equips it for mission to the world and service to God. Christ is the source of the church’s faith and life. His will for the church is revealed through scripture, which is the written Word of God. Christ is the church’s authority, and the church affirms that he alone is Lord. As a Presbyterian church, we are heirs to both the apostolic tradition and the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Therefore we are Reformed in the way we understand God and God’s relationship to all creation. Two basic tenets of Reformed Theology affirm God’s supremacy over all things and humanity’s chief purpose being to glorify and enjoy God forever. As a Reformed church, we see ourselves as reformed, and always being reformed by the Holy Spirit.
Presbyterians believe that things should be done decently and in order. We hold to a representational form of government from which we got our name. The word Presbyterian is the Greek work for elder. There are three ordained offices in our congregational government: elder, deacon, and ministers of Word and Sacrament, all of which are mentioned in the New Testament. Ministers and elders oversee the total life of the congregation. Together they are called the Session. Deacons are called primarily to ministries of service and caring and are known as the Diaconate.
THE STORY OF OUR WINDOWS
Creation to the Ongoing Church
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The windows in First Presbyterian Church were constructed in 1975 by The Willett Stained Glass Studios of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There are three large vertical windows containing figures and scenes connected by a running ribbon containing symbols. The whole story of the church is told from the creation of the world to the present time.
Creation to Abraham (window over entrance)
The scene at the top is Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac in accordance to what he thought was God’s will. An angel calls to him to stop. The brazier of flaming coals is ready to light the sacrificial fire. Next is the tower of Babel. The sweeping lines above the angel contain Noah’s ark to which the dove returns with an olive branch. The rainbow, symbol of God’s covenant with humankind, arches above. The angel with a flaming sword drives Adam and Eve from Paradise. The serpent of evil crawls along the ground from the “apple” tree. The hand of God is represented. A ray representing the breath of life extends down to Adam. In the background are sun, moon, stars, and birds in the sky, fish in the water, mountains, plants, and animals.
Old Testament (ribbon window, west side; continued from creation window)
In a circle a sun and moon are encircled with twelve stars. These are Jacob and Rachel and his sons who are the founders of the twelve tribes of Israel. Joseph is symbolized by a sheaf of wheat standing upright while those of his brothers bow down. This refers to a prophetic dream he had— the sort that infuriated his brothers into selling him into slavery in Egypt. Next is the burning bush where Moses saw God. A doorway with the blood of a lamb on the lintel and jambs is the symbol of the passover. The doors of the Jews were marked thus so the angel of death would pass them by and kill only the Egyptian’s children in the last and most terrible plague. Pharaoh allowed them to leave Egypt and begin the long journey toward the Promised Land. Next are the Tablets of the Law that God gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The seven-branched candlestick symbolizes the worship of God and the artifacts described in Exodus 25 and the following chapters to enhance that worship. The six-pointed star is a symbol for David, the crown and scrolls are symbols for his son, Solomon, the wise king. Next are tongs holding the burning coal from the altar of sacrifice with which the seraph sealed Isaiah’s lips, enabling him to prophesy. The shepherd’s staff belongs to Amos, who was a shepherd and vine dresser and has been called the prophet most like Jesus.
Jesus’ Early Life (west window)
At the top, John baptizes Jesus in the River Jordan. The Holy Spirit descends like a dove, and a voice from heaven says, “Thou are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Vignetted at the top is a chi rho sacred monogram for Jesus Christ on a mountain peak with the kingdoms of the world at the base. This is the symbol of His temptation by the devil, who offered Him a temporal Kingdom. Next, Jesus helps Joseph in the carpenter shop. The next scene shows the boy Christ seated in the Temple in the midst of the doctors and sages, both hearing them and asking them questions. The next scene shows the Holy Family on the flight to Egypt. Following are two doves in a basket— the offering at the time the Christ child was presented to the temple. Three crowns of the Magi follow. The first scene in this window is the Virgin Mary and her child worshipped by shepherds who appear silhouetted in the matrix. At the very bottom is a fleur de lis, the stylized lily which is the symbol for the purity of the Virgin and hence for the Annunciation.
The Ministry of Jesus (ribbon window, right of pulpit)
The first miracle of Jesus’ ministry was his turning the water into wine at the marriage feast at Cana. This is symbolized by jars and the marriage symbol: two lamps with entwined rings protected by a cross shows two individuals joined into one household under the protection of Christ. A ship shows Jesus calling Peter and Andrew to be “fishers of men.” The next symbol also refers to discipleship. It is derived from an ancient seal ring, a basket containing a fish flanked by two other fish who draw near to enter. The rayed image on a mountain is the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ teaching through parables is exemplified by the two houses; one is a rock remaining firm. The other house built on sand is shown washing away in a storm. The next parable is the story of the Sower who scatters some seed on good soil, some on the rocks where birds devour it. This ribbon window concludes with three miracles. First are the five loaves and two fish which Jesus multiplied to feed the five thousand. Next is the Transfiguration which is shown by the flanked by Moses’ tablets of the law and Elijah’s scroll of prophecy. Jesus healing the blind man is shown by the pile of moistened clay with which the eye was anointed and the eye restored.
Passion and Resurrection (chancel window)
At the apex of the window, Jesus Christ rises from the empty tomb bearing aloft the banner of the victory of life over sin and death. The butterfly is a symbol of life after death, not only of Christ but of all people. The caterpillar is like life on earth; the sleep in the cocoon is like the grace from which the butterfly emerges to fly up to heaven on beautiful wings. The story continues with Christ on the cross flanked by the sun and moon. The sun with face which darkened at noon on the day of the Crucifixion, and the moon also dark because she derives her light from the sun. Jesus stands before Pilate who washes his hands of the blood of this just man. Next seen is the cock that crowed when Peter denied his Master. While Peter, James and John sleep, Jesus prays in agony, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless not as I will but as thou wilt.” Here Jesus is seated at the head of an oval table, blessing the bread and wine. In the background, Judas (with a bag of money) steals away from the others. Next in silhouette, Jesus is shown washing Peter’s feet. This is a prelude to the Last Supper. Holy Week begins with Jesus’ triumphal entry into the gate of Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, hailed as a king by the crowd waving palm branches.
The Ongoing Church (ribbon window from chancel to choir)
This ribbon begins with a composite symbol made up of the word, the escallop shell of baptism from which descends three drops of water, a cross, a pilgrim’s staff, and a wallet. This represents the Great Commission when Jesus, after His resurrection, commanded His disciples, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel…baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Next the Holy Spirit dove (symbol derived from the account of Jesus’ baptism) descends upon the faithful gathered in the upper room to celebrate the feast of Pentecost. The flames lighted up each countenance. A book with stones on it is the attribute for Stephen, the first Christian martyr who was stoned and who died forgiving his murderers. The sword and open book are Paul’s “sword of the spirit.” Candles burning on a stone altar under an arched room symbolize the early Christians worshipping in secret in the catacombs. The martyr’s palm and crow symbolize the persecutions. The church is established by Constantine who calls the first church council at Nicea in 325. There Athanasius defended the doctrine of the triune God, against the superior numbers who accepted the Arian heresy. This is shown by a triangle between two columns. Athanasius is one of the doctors of the church. Others are Jerome, symbolized by a cardinal’s hat, and Augustine, whose repentance for the sins of his youth are typified by a heart pierced by arrows. A pope’s tiara shows the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church. The shield with a cross on it is a crusader’s. The great age of cathedral building is shown by a silhouette of Chartres Cathedral. The age of monasticism is best typified by Francis of Assisi. His symbol is a winged cross referring to his experiencing the stigmata, surrounded by the birds he called his brothers and sisters.
Ongoing Church – Continued Reformation to the Present (ribbon window from choir to entrance)
The window denotes the Reformation period beginning with a printing press because circulating the Bible in language that people could read for themselves signaled a new philosophical spirit. This is followed by symbols of some of the Reformation leaders. A good drinking from a chalice is Hus (which means “goose” in German), and he restored the communion in both kinds to the people. Calvin’s seal is a hand offering a heart. Knox is represented by the Scottish thistle. The burning bush is the symbol of the Presbyterian Church . The spread of Christianity to the New World is shown by a circuit rider on horseback; the log college which was founded by Tennant to train American clergy and was the ancestor of Princeton University and a sailing ship. Next is the seal of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. The beehive with lively bees symbolized the active congregation. Next is a ship with a mast and a fish below. This is the remora fish, a symbol for the spirit of Christ which keeps the ship of the church afloat throughout the storms of dissension. A burning torch with hands outstretched has been used to symbolize the social gospel which is further exemplified by the seals of the Salvation Army and UNICEF. Theology is shown by an open book and candle. The hope of the future shows both hemispheres united by the cross of Christ accompanied by the olive branch of peace.