The First Presbyterian Church of Salt Lake City is proud of its 150th anniversary downtown, where it grew from a dozen devotees who first met in a livre stall to more than a thousand who began worshiping in 1905 the English-Scottish-Gothic Revival Cathedral marched.
In fact, the First Presbyterian’s zeal for public education during this first quarter century, despite the differences in doctrine, also resulted in the adoption of the state’s predominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Presbyterians founded what would become Westminster College, along with 36 mission schools and four academies that taught an estimated 50,000 children, many of them from Latter-day Saint families.
That’s a good historical foundation, but Interim Pastor Steve Aeschbacher says it is the future of the First Presbyterian – who strives to remain true to his dedication to Bible study and his ecumenical approach to common gospel principles of serving the poor, hungry, and homeless – that will shape his church in the coming decades.
“One of the great things about the ministry here is that spiritual things are ‘on the agenda’ for people that they are not in other areas,” says Aeschbacher, who was elected as interim pastor after Pastor Michael J. Imperiale in June 2019 retired (a permanent replacement has yet to be named). “Our church has a long history of working with other faiths” [and] with many local groups helping those in need including St. Vincent DePaul, Crossroads Urban Center, the Utah Food Bank and more. “
In fact, for decades, longtime First Presbyterian member Pamela Atkinson has been the public face – and arguably one of the most effective advocates – for food, clothing, shelter, and the search for medical care and employment for Salt Lake City’s homeless and refugee communities .
As a child from London’s slums, Atkinson worked hard for an education and worked as a nurse in her native England and Australia before emigrating to the United States. She went in 2002 as Vice President of Mission Services at Intermountain Healthcare in Utah.
A certain “retirement”. By the time she left Intermountain, Atkinson had been meeting other First Presbyterian parishioners as regular volunteers at the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall in downtown Salt Lake City. Soon she was converting a basement room in the church into Pamela’s closet and collecting donated clothing and toiletries.
That was 19 years ago, and Atkinson – also known as “Mother Teresa” of Utah – is still making sure to stock up on scarves, warm coats, socks, hats and gloves in her car “when I see my homeless friends on the See street “. Street.”
“A very friendly church”
A steady stream of Pamela’s Closet items also finds its way to Catholic Community Services, The Road Home, Crossroads Urban Center, Ronald McDonald House, Volunteers of America, and other organizations. All of this is made possible by a small army of First Presbyterians helping Atkinson.
Among them are Wayne and Beverly Simpson, First Presbyterian members for more than 50 years. In fact, they met in the Church youth group – Wayne was Presbyterian and Beverly, raised Catholic, had ventured from the Madeleine Cathedral to the street.
“The First Presbyterian is a very kind church [and] full of people of different backgrounds and beliefs, ”says Beverly. “We say our mission is to ‘love God, love one another, love neighbor and make disciples’.”
For the past 15 years, Beverly has managed Pamela’s Closet, expanding its reach from basic clothing and hygiene donations to helping the homeless, refugees, and low-income families with financial and medical emergencies.
Wayne has served as a church elder on several occasions, ranging from directing youth mission trips to repairing homes for the elderly to overseeing the church’s multi-million dollar restoration project in 2004. But he is especially grateful for the years he and Beverly have participates in the charitable work of her church, which began 20 years ago by regularly distributing food in soup kitchens in the city center.
So how should the First Presbyterian Church celebrate its 100th anniversary other than finding new ways to help the less fortunate in Salt Lake City? How about an interfaith campaign to raise 150 to offer? “Home warming sets” to help people who have moved off the street and into more permanent homes?
“The kits contain toilet pistons, trash cans, bedding, cleaning supplies, kitchen utensils,” explains Wayne, “pretty much everything you need [to move in] if you don’t have a lot of stuff. “
The heart of Christianity
Such a commitment to the community and this service are at the heart of the Christian faith, says Aeschbacher. Still, concerns remain about COVID-19 – which has slowed the full return to personal worship while reducing its popularity annual Scottish festival outdoors and limited access to the accompanying person Kirkin ‘o’ th ‘tartan Live streaming – convinced the church leadership to postpone the official, larger celebration for their over 800 congregations to 2022.
“COVID was – and still is to a certain extent – very disruptive for our normal ‘church to do’,” admits Aeschbacher. “As we pray in person now, we continue to offer online and streaming options; some people still feel uncomfortable going back to a face-to-face conversation [meetings].
“But we are made to be together in fellowship – to worship, play, learn, pray, eat,” he adds. “So I can’t wait until we can do all of these things personally, with no restrictions or worries.”
Atkinson takes such concerns calmly and emphasizes her confidence in the future of First Presbyterian as a church family that includes both its members and its fellowship in general.
“In the next 150 years we will be working a lot more outside the walls. The faith of our people is strengthened through fellowship and Bible studies within. . . but also by working for refugees, ”she says. “After all, we are the hands of Jesus Christ when it comes to doing His work in our community.”
As they congratulate the First Presbyterian on his century and a half in Utah, Catholics, Episcopal, and Latter-day Saints look forward to more years of fellowship and charitable efforts together.
The LDS Church commends the First Presbyterian Church’s “mission to love God and love our neighbors” as “has blessed the lives of Utahners and given so much to our communities through religious, cultural, and educational programs.”
“The [First Presbyterian] The church building is instantly recognizable and a historic Salt Lake gem, ”the statement said. “Our two faiths have had a long and respectful dialogue and we look forward to another relationship.”
Deacon Scott Dodge of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City advises that First Presbyterian (inaugurated in 1906) and the Madeleine Cathedral (inaugurated in 1909)) hinted at their future good relationships.
“The spatial and temporal proximity of these two churches is something of a tangible sign of what I call the ‘inherent’ ecumenism that exists in the Catholic and Protestant communities of Utah,” says Dodge. “Given that Christians are united by baptism, perhaps closeness [of the two cathedrals] can be a reminder that the Church of Christ is itself a sacrament. “
Rev. Scott Hayashi, Bishop of Utah, who praised both the “beauty of the First Presbyterian Church on South Temple” and its “Christian influence” since it was founded in 1871.
“On this 150th anniversary of [their] Church, “says Hayashi,” may we also know the vast reach and spiritual work of our Presbyterian neighbors. “