First Presbyterian Church of Seattle

A Brief History of the First Presbyterian Church of Seattle

This information is written and provided by the First Presbyterian Church of Seattle

The First Presbyterian Church of Seattle was organized on December 12, 1869, by Revered George F. Whitworth. Dr. Whitworth was a preacher who had come to the frontier Puget Sound area by wagon train and canoe in 1853. The church had seven charter members – six women and one man.

Before organizing the First Presbyterian Church of Seattle, Dr. Whitworth served as the third president of the University of Washington. He is estimated to have organized as many as 20 churches including the First Presbyterian Church of Olympia. In 1890 he also founded Sumner Academy, a Christian college that was subsequently named Whitworth College and relocated from Tacoma to Spokane, Washington.

The new congregation gained members quickly and in 1877 was able to move into a building of its own at 3rd and Madison. The next 15 years saw the membership grow from 150 to 480. A new sanctuary was built at 4th and Spring that would seat 1,500 in 1894. By the turn of the century the church had started four outlying missions that soon became independent churches.

The eleventh minister, the Revered Mark A. Matthews, from Jackson, Tennessee, was installed in 1902 and remained for 38 years. The church grew with Dr. Matthews' fame as a preacher and evangelist, from 1,000 in 1903 to 8,000 in 1940, to become the largest Presbyterian church in the world.

A new building, erected in 1907 at 7th and Spring and 28 branch Sunday Schools and Missions throughout the city, and its suburbs, accommodated this huge membership. Dr. Matthew' preaching audience increased in the latter years of his ministry by Station KTW, the first church-owned radio station in the world.

In 1941 the Revered F. Paul McConkey was called from Detroit, Michigan, to be the pastor. His ministry accented tithing and missions with special emphasis on evangelism. During this time many of the Sunday Schools and Missions became independent churches.

The Revered Ralph G. Turnbull, born and raised in Scotland, came to the church in 1954 from the Pittsburg Seminary. His emphasis was on preaching and teaching. Dr. Turnbull and his congregation recognized the need to replace the 1907 church building. Plans were drawn for a modern church that would serve the congregation's worship, teaching and fellowship needs. The Christian Education Building and the Chapel were completed in 1962; the Sanctuary in 1969. Dedication took place as celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the church.

In 1972 the Revered J. Murray Marshall became the fourteenth pastor of the church. A Canadian, Dr. Marshall came to Seattle from the First Presbyterian Church in Flushing, New York, to maintain and build the church's place in the community as he proclaimed the Word of God.