First Presbyterian Church (Tulsa)

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First Presbyterian Church of Tulsa
First Presbyterian Church, Tulsa in 2007
LocationTulsa, Oklahoma
DenominationPresbyterian Church in the United States of America
Founded1885 (1885)
Founder(s)James M. Hall
Functional statusActive
Architectural typeGothic

The First Presbyterian Church of Tulsa was organized in 1885. It originally met in the store owned by James M. Hall and Harry C. Hall. The first permanent minister, Reverend Charles William Kerr and his wife arrived in Tulsa in 1900. Kerr remained at this church for over 40 years. Under his leadership, the church became the second largest in its denomination (the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America). This church is part of the Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery of the United Presbyterian Church in the USA (UPCUSA).


1880s to 1910[edit]

In 1882, two brothers, James M. Hall and Harry C. Hall, established a general store at what is now the intersection of First and Main Streets, near the Frisco railroad tracks in the Indian Territory town of Tulsa.[2] James Hall has been credited with organizing First Presbyterian Church (FPC), the first permanent Protestant church in Tulsa, which began meeting at the store in 1885. The first ministers at this church were itinerant Presbyterian missionaries, whose salaries were paid by their denomination, the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America (PCUSA). Rev. Robert McGill Loughridge, preached the first sermon on August 19, 1883 on the porch of the Hall store.[3]

In 1901, Reverend Charles William Kerr, a missionary from Pennsylvania, answered a call to become the first permanent minister. He proved to be a very dynamic personality and instigated a rapid growth of the congregation. The discovery of oil at nearby Red Fork in 1901 and another at Glenpool in 1905 had initiated a population boom that would radically transform Tulsa over the next half century. FPC soon outgrew the Hall store and moved to a purpose-built clapboard structure at 4th street and Boston Avenue, completed in 1899.[5]

James Hall had also founded the Union Sunday School, an interdenominational organization, with two other people. Later, he became superintendent of the FPC Sunday school, a position he held for twenty years.

1910 to 1926[edit]

In 1910, the church moved to a new three-story limestone building at the southeast corner of Seventh Street and Boston Avenue. An impressive building in its day, it had a domed roof and Ionic columns on the porticos.

When the infamous Tulsa Race Riot occurred on June 1, 1921, Rev. Kerr opened the basement of this structure to house refugees, primarily women and children, from the Greenwood district. One book about the riot states that the bodies of four dead black men were left at the church door.[4]

1926 to 2010[edit]

The third permanent building was completed in 1926, adjacent to the 1910 structure. This building is shown in the 2007 photo above. Mrs. Kerr dubbed it the "high kirk" of Tulsa.

The General Assembly of the PCUSA held its annual meeting at FPC in 1928. In 1932, Reverend Kerr was elected moderator of the General Assembly.

Rev. Kerr retired as Senior Pastor in 1941, and remained as Pastor Emeritus until his death. By 1941, church membership had grown to more than 3,200. The pace of growth continued under his successor, Dr. Edmund Miller, to more than 5,000. In 1948, the church was officially recognized as the second largest Presbyterian church in the United States of America.[5]

The 1910 building was demolished in the early 1950s and replaced by the current C. W. Kerr Building.

2010 to Present[edit]

In 2010, FPC began constructing a new facility at 7th and Cincinnati Avenue. This expansion will contain a new sanctuary on the south side, offices and classrooms on the north side, and a courtyard shaped like a Celtic cross in the middle. The new complex is said to cost $33 million.[6] The addition, completed in 2012, added a 1,400 seat sanctuary, so that all 2,600 members could attend the same service on site.[1]

In December 2010, the 1926 church building was named as a supporting building in the Oil Capital Historic District.

In the fall of 2013, the church began a new leadership model: intentional co-pastors. The former senior pastor, Rev. Jim Miller, began sharing duties equally with Rev. Ryan Moore. Moore was formerly an assistant pastor at the church, until he left to pursue a doctoral degree at University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Although some Presbyterian churches have had husband and wife co-pastors, and others have temporarily had co-pastors while an older pastor was preparing to retire, the two at First Presbyterian are unrelated and Miller has no near-term plan to retire.[7]

Notable ministers[edit]

  • Charles William Kerr 1900 - 1941
  • Edmund F. Miller, D. D. 1941 - 1957
  • Bryant M. Kirkland, D. D.
  • William Wiseman 1963 - 1984[8]
  • Ernest J. Lewis 1985 - 1990[9]
  • James D. Miller, Ph. D. 1992–present

Current Pastors[edit]

  • Rev. James D. Miller, Ph.D.
  • Rev. Ryan Moore, M.Div.
  • Rev. James Estes, M.Div.
  • Wambugu Gachungi, M.Div
  • Rev. Dan Hutchinson, M.Div.


  1. ^ a b "First Presbyterian Church of Tulsa." Advanced Masonry. Undated, Accessed March 27, 2018
  2. ^ "Obituary:James M. Hall," Tulsa World, May 27, 1935
  3. ^ Sherman, Bill. Tulsa World. Church's 1875 origin linked to missionary. June 23, 2007. Retrieved May 12, 2013.[1]
  4. ^ Hirsch, James S. Riot and Remembrance: America's Worst Race Riot and its Legacy. ISBN 0-618-10813-0. 2002. Available from Google Books. Accessed February 19, 2011.
  5. ^ Cassity, Michael and Danney Goble. Divided Hearts: The Presbyterian Journey Through Oklahoma History. Oklahoma University Press. Norman. 2009. ISBN 978-0-8061-3848-0 p. 220. Accessed July 30, 2018.
  6. ^ News on 6 archive, Bryan Emory, "Tulsa's First Presbyterian Church Begins $33 Million Construction Project," October 21, 2010. Accessed December 26, 2010.[2]
  7. ^ "Co-pastors a first for downtown Tulsa's First Presbyterian Church." Tulsa World. October 5, 2013. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  8. ^ Presbyterian Church U.S.A., "Bill Wiseman is dead at 91." July 15, 2010.[3]
  9. ^ Jenkins, Carolyn. "First Presbyterian Pastor to Retire." Tulsa World. July 8, 1990. Accessed December 20, 2015.

Coordinates: 36°08′59″N 95°59′14″W / 36.14972°N 95.98722°W / 36.14972; -95.98722 (First Presbyterian Church)