The History of First Presbyterian Church, Virginia Beach

First Presbyterian Church of Virginia Beach, with an active membership of over 500 families, has come a long, long way since the spring of 1921 when five women requested that a church be started. Four men bravely pledged to organize the church in December, 1922.

When the church was officially constituted on Sunday, January 28, 1923, those four men were elected officers: Elders C.C. Barclay and B.G. Porter, and Deacons F. Fred Douglas and Harry B. Holland. Early meetings of the church were held in the old Recreation Hall at 17th Street and Pacific Avenue, at Galilee Episcopal Church, and at the Masonic Hall at 16th Street and Pacific.

An old Army barracks was the first church building.

The first building the church called its own was an old Army barracks, the Quonset Hut, purchased by the Home Mission Board of Norfolk Presbytery. The barracks building was dismantled and reassembled on a lot at 22nd Street and Pacific Avenue. “We froze in the winter and burned up in the summer,” recalled Miss Lillian Barclay, who cleaned, built fires and led Sunday School, “We did everything except preach.” Miss Barclay and Mrs. James Tait and her daughters were the women who initially requested that a Presbyterian Church be organized at the Beach.

The Reverend Paul K. Buckles, mission pastor designated by the Presbytery for both Lynnhaven and Virginia Beach missions, was called as the first pastor and served the new church until 1925. In the summer of 1926, The Reverend Frank H. Scattergood was called as pastor. With only 63 members, the church struggled valiantly during the Depression;

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however, during Reverend Scattergood’s tenure, a new stucco church costing $16,500 was built on the 22nd Street site. The barracks was moved to the rear of the lot and used for Sunday School. “Raising that money was like trying to raise three million dollars now, ” recalls Mrs. Elizabeth Bennett, church historian and daughter of one of the church founders. “A lot of families sacrificed a great deal to build the church.”

The Presbytery relocated Dr. Scattergood in the spring of 1933. For a while, several ministers occupied the pulpit. One young man who served as a preacher was well-liked and the congregation wanted to call him as a pastor, but the salary was a problem for the small church. The Home Mission Board agreed to relieve the church of the building debt if the church would agree to pay the minister and other church expenses.

The Reverend Joseph B. Clower was called to serve the church in 1934. The church grew in number and in enthusiasm, and the budget for the fiscal year, 1934-35, was $3,000. The church purchased the residence adjoining the church as a Manse for Mr. Clower.

Mr. Shep Royster donated $5,000 to be applied to a new building, and a lot on 36th Street and Pacific Avenue (the present site of the Chapel) was purchased. Construction began in 1940, and the colonial-style building (with a seating capacity of 250) was dedicated on April 6, 1941, with a sermon by the first pastor, Dr. Buckles. Membership at the time was approximately 190 persons.

In 1945, the Reverend Robert P. Davis was installed as pastor ,and the church grew in membership. In June of1957, the new Educational Building was completed, and the two remaining charter members, Miss Lillian S. Barclay and Mr. B.G. Porter, broke ground for the new (present) Sanctuary. The first service held in the new Sanctuary, built at a cost of approximately $340,000, was on October 19, 1958.

Two months later, the Reverend Henry G. Morgan accepted the call to become pastor and served until 1963. In 1960, the Reverend J. Paul Vondracek became assistant pastor. From September 1, 1964, to March 31, 1965, the Reverend Ray L. St. Clair served as interim minister.

On April 1, 1965, the Reverend John S. Lyles became the church’s sixth pastor. On September 1, 1965, the Reverend William D. Russell became assistant pastor, and he served until September 14, 1969, when the Reverend William C. Hedrick was installed as assistant pastor. The Reverend Randall Yale Gunn was installed on September 12, 1971, as Minister of Education.

In 1973, our Fiftieth Anniversary was celebrated on January 28, and in the summer of 1974, Dr. William F. Summers came to First Church from Grace Covenant Church in Richmond. Dr. Summers was joined by Dwight Christenbury as associate pastor in 1975. Dr. William Hawkins succeeded Dwight as associate pastor in 1984, and ably led the congregation subsequent to Dr. Summers’s retirement in 1985, and the arrival of Dr. J. Scottie Griffin in August 1987.

Dr. Hawkins departed in May 1988, the same month that Nancy Smith assumed duties as Director of Christian Education. Ground was broken for a new FellowshipHall (StantonHall) and a new Education building in1990. On March 1, 1992, the Reverend Georgianna Brabban was installed as associate pastor. After Nancy Smith accepted a new position in Jacksonville, the new Director of Christian Education, Dan Wiard, assumed the position in January 1996. The Seventy-fifth anniversary of First Presbyterian Church was celebrated on May 30 and 31, 1998.

After the resignation of Dan Wiard in January of 2000 and the retirement of Dr. Scottie Griffin in March of 2000, the Church was ably led by Georgianna Brabban Johnson until the arrival of Dr. Dwight O. Christenbury in August of 2000. Georgianna Brabban Johnson resigned in July, 2001, and Liz Harris was hired as part-time Christian Education Coordinator in September. On December 8, 2002, Stephen Michael Ratliff was installed as Associate Pastor.

At. the Annual Congregational Meeting in September, 2004, the congregation approved the purchase of a new pipe organ for the sanctuary and the structural modifications to the room necessary to accommodate the instrument. The organ, which was built by the Reuter Organ Company, was installed in September 2005 and dedicated November 6, 2005.

At the Annual Congregational Meeting in September, 2005, the congregation concurred with the request of Dr. Dwight O. Christenbury that he retire as pastor effective January 1, 2006. The Reverend Dr. Robert C. Evans, III, was hired as interim pastor effective January 30, 2006, and served for about fifteen months. Liz Harris resigned as CE Coordinator effective November 1, 2006, and was replaced in the interim by Belinda Valet. On March 11, 2007, Albert G. Butzer, III, was called as pastor; his first Sunday to lead worship was June 3, 2007.

The Mission Summary Report which came from our church’s interim time noted that our members felt that First Church should give greater emphasis to the ministries of children, youth, and young adults. The congregation’s support of the 2008 Stewardship campaign made possible the hiring of a full-time Director of Christian Education and a full-time Youth Director to move the church in this direction. Jacqui Horton took over as DCE in February, 2008, and Caitlyn Riner was hired as Youth Director in June, 2008. Under their leadership, the educational opportunities for all ages and the activities for children and youth have increased.

Stephen Ratliff resigned as Associate Pastor, effective June 30, 2009. On May 16, 2010, the congregation called Caroline Anderson Jinkins to serve as Associate Pastor. A recent graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, Caroline was ordained on August 29, 2010, at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York. Caitlyn Riner resigned in the fall of 2015 and Lyndsey McCall accepted our call as Director of Youth Ministries in June, 2016. Caroline Jinkins resigned as Associate Pastor, effective in August, 2016, although she left on maternity leave in May.

First Presbyterian Church has a rich heritage with leadership of dedicated men and women, unusually good preaching through the years, and the blessing of God upon our activities. At First Presbyterian Church, it is perpetually our challenge to “live up to our heritage and to leave to our children and to those who follow us in church leadership an even richer heritage.”