Presbyterian Church been in downtown Greenville for nearly 2 centuries

GREENVILLE — The First Presbyterian Church of Greenville has been around for more than 190 years, and today has a membership roll of 309 attendees.

Pastor John Person said it is part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and left the PCUSA in 2012.

Person, who was ordained July 6, 1980, came on board at the Presbyterian Church on Aug. 1, 1996, and was installed on Sept. 29, 1996.

Before coming to Greenville, Person served the Tabernacle Church in Indianapolis from 1978-89 and the First Presbyterian Church in Brainerd, Minnesota, from 1985-96.

“I was born and grew up in Minneapolis,” he said. “I am a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary of Pasadena, did by bachelor’s at Hamline University in St. Paul and my doctorate at Bethel Theological Seminary in St. Paul.”

Members of his staff are: Nikki Gilmore, youth director, and Marnelise Van der walt, Logos director. Marilyn Light is choir director and Terri Fryman is organist.

Services at the church are the 10:30 a.m. Sunday worship with Sunday school at 9:30.

Person’s wife, Nancy, is retired from Greenville City Schools where she was a sixth-grade teacher and member of the Greenville School Foundation Board.

Person himself is a member of Greater Greenville Ministerial Association, GPAT Board, Rotary Club, a tutor at South School and helped organize, with pastors Joe Soley and Jim Morehouse, the bell-ringing program at Christmas time.

“I love the lord,” Person said. “I love to teach and preach and make Christ known. I was originally going to be a lawyer, but in college, I got involved in Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. While a student at Hamline, I served as student chaplain and through that experience, came to recognize my calling in full-time ministry. I changed my course the last year of college and then took a year off. I was an economics/political science major in college and in seminary I majored in Biblical Studies.”

It was in college choir that he met his future wife, who was from St. Paul, just across the bridge from where he lived.

“We both sing,” he said. “We will celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary this coming August.”

The church’s ministries are numerous, and include:

• Media ministry and program on Cable Channel 5, “God’s Living Word,” Wednesday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 11 a.m., which has been ongoing for 18 years.

• Logos Children’s Ministry for preschool through fifth grade; JAM — Jesus and Me — middle school and junior high school; and senior high ministry, all on Wednesdays.

• Tutoring at South School for fifth- and sixth-graders for almost 19 years. Twenty-four tutors do this from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Wednesdays.

• Free summer lunch program for children and guardians on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

• Community Thanksgiving dinner, free meal for whole community Thanksgiving Day. Last year there were 130 in attendance.

• Deacons Benevolent Ministry to the community, helping with utility and rent bills.

• Various Bible studies and small groups.

• Hope and Recovery on Friday nights and Tuesday afternoons, led by John Wiltshire.

• Summer Vacation Bible School.

• Stephen Ministry, a lay caring/counseling ministry.

• Supporter of mission to Muslim countries.

• Site for senior lunches through the Senior Resource Connection on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It’s for anybody over the age of 60.

• A women’s ministry, known as Tuesday Gals, meeting the third Tuesday of each month.

• Scholarship ministry since 1993, with the church giving out close to $240,000 to high school and college students from the church to help defray the cost of their tuition.

• Sponsor community concert each year known as Swinging With the Saints.

“We are starting the Summer Growth for God this year,” Person said. “It’s our first time for this summer program. The whole church is involved. It will be a summer of renewal activities funded through a grant from Lilly Endowment. We will have several special speakers…the Rev. Peter Larson, pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Lebanon, Ohio; the Rev. David Hawley, now professor at the University of Cincinnati; and the Rev. Bill Rasch. Our lay people will preach, and we will hold a special family camp at Chenoweth Trail the first weekend in August.”

He went on to say that there will be a hymn fest on May 29 featuring special music from the past.

“Our special mission will be emphasized throughout the summer,” Person remarked. “On Aug 21, we will have a community-wide party in the parking lot of the church with live music.”

Greenville and vicinity became a missionary field for the First Presbyterian Church now in its third building located at 114 E Fourth St., around 1818, according to history written by D.L. Gaskill.

Other pastors who have served since 1953 are the Rev. Harold E. Huffman from 1953-74; his assistant, the Rev Paul O. Boger, serving from 1965-74; the Rev. Ronald Naylor, from 1974-79 and his associate, the Rev. Gregory Gibson from 1979-80; the Rev. David A. Layman, 1980-88; Associate Pastor the Rev. Jocelyn Sheldon, 1982-88; the Rev. William Locke, 1989 (retired 2001); the Rev. Dennis Clarke, 1989-95; the Rev. C. Ernest Williams, 1995-96; and associate pastor, the Rev. Christopher Benck, 2007-09.

By Linda Moody

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