Church marking 70 years in Pilot

By Dean Palmer - Special to the News
This photo from just before First Presbyterian Church was organized in September of 1948 shows the building, previously an Army Chapel, being reassembled after having been moved from Greensboro. - Submitted photo
This aging photo shows First Presbyterian Church as it looked 67 years ago, in 1951. - Submitted photo

First Presbyterian Church, located at 316 East Main Street in Pilot Mountain will celebrate its 70th anniversary on Sunday with a homecoming service.

Guest speaker for the morning service will be Dr. Steve Moss. Special music will be offered under the leadership of First Presbyterian Music Director Sherri Collins.

Afterwards, a catered luncheon will be offered for church members, former members and those associated with the church. Those wishing to take part in the luncheon should register by Friday. Those with a connection to the church may sign-up by emailing requests to firstprespm@centurylink.net.

According to historical information provided by church representative Bert Meijboom, the interest that led to organization of the church can be traced to the early 1940s, a time of growth for the small town of Pilot Mountain.

The town was already home to a Baptist church and a Methodist church and a growing number of area Presbyterians felt the need for a Presbyterian church. In 1946, Zeta Davison was asked by Rev. Ralph Buchanan of the Winston-Salem Presbytery to conduct a survey.

After receiving a positive survey result, a Sunday School was started in the local high school building. Services were conducted twice each month by retired Presbyterian minister Rev. John D. Smith, as well as by Buchanan and visiting members on alternating Sundays.

A search for a location for the proposed church was undertaken and several sites on the outskirts of town rejected as members-to-be desired a more central location. A manse was purchased and retired Army Chaplain Carl H. Stark was secured as pastor. He and his family moved into the home in October of 1946.

A Main Street lot was purchased under Stark’s supervision and a building program was initiated. In 1947 an Army Chapel was purchased in Greensboro. The chapel was then dismantled, transported to a new site and erected as First Presbyterian Church.

On Sept. 28, 1948, an organization service was held. Church officers were ordained and Stark was installed as pastor with 44 charter members. A dedication service was held for the church on Sept. 9, 1951.

Stark served until January of 1952. In September of that year, the church became a member of a five-church field known as the “Larger Parish.”

The Pilot Mountain Presbyterian Church dissolved its membership from that parish in December of 1954. From 1965 until 1970, the church and Hills Presbyterian Church formed a part of what was known as the “Pilot Mountain Field.”

Other pastors who have served the church, including interim supply pastors, are (in order of service) Coy Bovender, Gerald Reiff, Gaston Boyles, Burris Bender, Fred Childress, W.O. Nelson, Harry Thomas, Lester Sheppard, John Talmage, Stimson Hawkins, Paul Mullen, Hank Keating, Jesse Bledsoe, Leighton Culler, Kristi Mills Rolison and Travis Milam.

During the pastorate of Rev. Nelson, the Church Book of Order was amended to allow ordination of female members. In November of 1965, a charter member, Nina Riggins, was ordained as the first female deacon in the Pilot Mountain church. She also became the first female deacon in the Winston-Salem Presbytery.

Rev. Lester Sheppard came from the Westfield area in 1973 where he had served as pastor of the Asbury, Collinstown, Hills and Francisco churches since 1955. During his pastorate in Pilot Mountain, he was also pastor of Pine Ridge Presbyterian Church. He and his wife, Ersell, decided to stay in Pilot Mountain following his retirement and he was elected Pastor Emeritus.

Since 1948, the church has undergone several improvements.

In 1960, the original manse was traded for a house adjoining the church. The fellowship hall and kitchen were remodeled in 1976 and the west wing housing the parlor was added in 1981. In order to extend the sanctuary, the pillars at the entrance were removed in 1989 to make way for an enclosed vestibule. The façade stone above the original entrance can still be seen in the wall above the swinging doors.

After Rev. Bledsoe and his family moved into their own house in 1995, the manse was converted into an educational building where five Sunday school classes were taught.

In 1996, the church received a new roof and a new steeple.

The house that existed next to the manse was purchased in 1997 for the purpose of acquiring additional property for a larger church building and providing off-street parking. The house that occupied that site was removed.

For the same reason, the small house adjacent to the church located on Needham Street was acquired in 2006. This house was eventually demolished early in 2018 making additional land available as needed.

Following Rev. Kristi Rolison’s resignation in December of 2016, the church was without a pastor until June 2017. At that time a contract was signed with Travis Milam, who was then a seminary student, to serve as temporary supply pastor.

In the event of severe weather, Meijboom noted, a decision may be made to postpone Sunday’s homecoming activities until a later date. Those scheduled to participate will be notified of any change in scheduling.

This photo from just before First Presbyterian Church was organized in September of 1948 shows the building, previously an Army Chapel, being reassembled after having been moved from Greensboro.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/web1_FPC-Construction-roof.jpgThis photo from just before First Presbyterian Church was organized in September of 1948 shows the building, previously an Army Chapel, being reassembled after having been moved from Greensboro. Submitted photo

This aging photo shows First Presbyterian Church as it looked 67 years ago, in 1951.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/web1_Church-1951-1-.jpgThis aging photo shows First Presbyterian Church as it looked 67 years ago, in 1951. Submitted photo

By Dean Palmer

Special to the News