Early church records indicate that four Mesa women and one husband held a meeting on March 19, 1947 with the Rev. Claude Morton, a Presbyterian minister from Phoenix who was also a representative of the Board of National Missions for the area. A week later five ministers from the Phoenix Presbytery came to Mesa and made 200 calls throughout the city. The first Sunday of worship was led by Rev. Morton on Palm Sunday, March 30, 1947, and was attended by 25 people. This service was held at Gibbons Chapel on North Sirrine Street (now Bunker Mortuary). By the time it was closed at the end of the year the Roll of Charter Members included forty people.
The first installed pastor was Dr. Earl Seymour Fox of Baltimore, Maryland. Dr. Fox began his service to the church on October 25, 1948. The first order of business was to find a permanent site for the church, and the current five acre property was purchased in July of 1949 for a cost of $9,500. The records say that the church was by then 135 members, all of whom were “induced” to tithe to raise the needed funds. Ground was broken in August of 1950 for the original building which included the chapel, fellowship hall, kitchen, and restrooms.
The church continued to grow and thrive. Dr. Fox finished his ministry here in July of 1953, to be followed by the Rev. Roy Peyton (January 1954-January 1956), Dr. R. Bruce Crowell (September 1956-May 1959), and the Rev. William Knoblock (September 1959-Nov 1966). It was during Mr. Knoblock’s tenure that a new sanctuary was envisioned. Designed by church member Curt Schafer, the sanctuary was built for a cost of $146,000 and dedicated at just before Christmas, 1964. The beautiful Visser-Rowland organ was added in 1991.
With the new sanctuary the church continued to grow alongside Mesa, and reached its fullest bloom during the ministry of the Rev. Robert Martz (April 1967-December 1978). It was a rich and full time in the life of the church, and many significant missions were begun during those years, or just following, including the Sitka partnership, Laubach Literacy, and Meals on Wheels.
A significant figure in the early years of FPC was Dora Jackson. Born in 1896 on the Pima Indian Reservation, Dora was a charter member of FPC. She was active in many aspects of church life, but her real heart was education. The Jackson Education Building, dedicated in 1982, reflects Dora’s deep love of her students and their love of her.
Another significant figure was Dottie Kissinger. Dottie came to Arizona in 1948 as a single mother and owner of a dude ranch on the Salt River (Saguaro Lake Ranch). Despite the distance she became very active in both the local church and in the national denomination, eventually serving as the Vice Moderator of the General Assembly.
The coming of Dr. James Bruening in April of 1987 marked the start of a season of healing which continued through to his retirement in February of 1998. FPC celebrated its 50th anniversary, and missions and programs continued to flourish. He led the church through the decision making regarding the sanctuary organ and its purchase and installation. Rev. Bruening’s pastorate saw the installation of the courtyard playground, and another mission trip to Sitka, Alaska.
Dr. Brant D. Baker was lead pastor of FPC beginning the summer of 1999. His time here was marked by slow but steady membership growth, new mission initiatives in the local community, a strengthening of discipleship through strong biblical preaching and an emphasis on small groups and prayer, and various campus improvements and upgrades.
In 2017, Rev. Ann Conklin was installed as Pastor of First Presbyterian Church. Her beginning time of ministry was marked by new enthusiasm and energy. FPC began a missional relationship with Tseyi Bidaa Presbyterian Church in Del Muerto, Arizona, and volunteers took Vacation Bible School there in 2016, 2017, and 2018. Her ministry at FPC concluded at the start of 2022.
The global pandemic had a dramatic impact on the life of First Presbyterian, but church leaders and staff quickly adapted to new and creative ways of ministry. Services began being broadcast live on YouTube, and a projection system was installed.
Through the many changes in the history of First Presbyterian Church of Mesa, God continues to be faithful, and has been using us as a community of faith for His Glory!