First Presbsyterian History

Welcome to First Presbyterian Church, Waterloo, Iowa.  This church was founded in 1854, and thus we–like the City of Waterloo–celebrated our 150th anniversary in 2004.

This First Presbyterian Church building is the most recent of four buildings the congregation has worshipped in.  When the building was dedicated in 1923, there were approximately 800 members, marking a dramatic change from the little band of six Presbyterians who first met in a log cabin in 1854.  In 1857 the congregation dedicated a new church building (on the corner of Park Avenue and Jefferson).  It is likely that that structure was the first church building erected in the city.

The present building is of Gothic design and is built of buff brick trimmed with white stone.  A distinguished feature is the tower, which is twenty feet square and eighty feet high and houses the carillon bells.  There are fourteen bells, including one that strikes the hours.  For years the bells have been heard throughout the downtown area to mark the time.  Each Sunday, before the worship service, and each day at noon, a song is played on the carillon bells.

Inside the church is a beautiful sanctuary with Gothic Revival stained glass windows and a vaulted roof supported by oak beams.  It has a seating capacity of close to 500.

First Presbyterian has always had a great tradition of music in worship.  At the center of its musical life is a magnificent Skinner organ.  This instrument–a gift of the James Black Dry Goods Company as a memorial to Mr. Black who was a church member–was installed when the present building was erected.  The original console, facade and several ranks of pipes are still in use even though the organ has had several internal facelifts.  The organ features  1, 715 speaking pipes, controlled by 27 stops.

The building also contains the Dierenfield Chapel, a large Fellowship Hall for social events, Calvin Hall for coffee hour following worship, a gymnasium, many classrooms for Christian Education, and a number of offices.

No history of this congregation would be complete without mentioning its third building.  That structure became nationally famous in Ripley’s Believe It or Not.  Known as the “Boulder Church”, it was constructed entirely of stone from a single boulder that came from a farm east of the city of Waterloo.

First Presbyterian Church is an active congregation with a rich history of Christian Education, support for local and foreign missions, excellent music and inspiring preaching.

The History of the
Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), with denominational offices in Louisville, Kentucky, has approximately 2.3 million members, more than 10,000 congregations and 14,000 ordained and active ministers.

Presbyterians trace their history to the 16th century and the Protestant Reformation. Our heritage, and much of what we believe, began with John Calvin (1509-1564), whose writings crystallized much of the Reformed thinking that came before him. 

The earliest Christian church consisted of Jews in the first century who had known Jesus and heard his teachings. It gradually grew and spread from the Middle East to other parts of the world, though not without controversy and hardship among its supporters.

During the 4th century, after more than 300 years of persecution under various Roman emperors, the church became established as a political as well as a spiritual power under the Emperor Constantine. Theological and political disagreements, however, served to widen the rift between members of the eastern (Greek-speaking) and western (Latin-speaking) branches of the church. Eventually the western portions of Europe, came under the religious and political authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Eastern Europe and parts of Asia came under the authority of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

In western Europe, the authority of the Roman Catholic Church remained largely unquestioned until the Renaissance in the 15th century. The invention of the printing press in Germany around 1440 made it possible for common people to have access to printed materials including the Bible. This, in turn, enabled many to discover religious thinkers who had begun to question the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. One such figure, Martin Luther, a German priest and professor, started the movement known as the Protestant Reformation when he posted a list of 95 grievances against the Roman Catholic Church on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. Some 20 years later, a French/Swiss theologian, John Calvin, further refined the reformers’ new way of thinking about the nature of God and God’s relationship with humanity in what came to be known as Reformed theology. John Knox, a Scotsman who studied with Calvin in Geneva, Switzerland, took Calvin’s teachings back to Scotland. Other Reformed communities developed in England, Holland and France. The Presbyterian church traces its ancestry back primarily to Scotland and England.

Presbyterians have featured prominently in United States history. The Rev. Francis Makemie, who arrived in the U.S. from Ireland in 1683, helped to organize the first American Presbytery at Philadelphia in 1706. In 1726, the Rev. William Tennent founded a ministerial ‘log college’ in Pennsylvania. Twenty years later, the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton University) was established. Other Presbyterian ministers, such as the Rev. Jonathan Edwards and the Rev. Gilbert Tennent, were driving forces in the so-called “Great Awakening,” a revivalist movement in the early 18th century. One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the Rev. John Witherspoon, was a Presbyterian minister and the president of Princeton University from 1768-1793.

The Presbyterian church in the United States has split and parts have reunited several times. Currently the largest group is the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which has its national offices in Louisville, Ky. It was formed in 1983 as a result of reunion between the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (PCUS), the so-called “southern branch,” and the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA), the so-called “northern branch.” Other Presbyterian churches in the United States include: the Presbyterian Church in America, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.

If you would like additional information on Our Beliefs and Practices, How We Are Governed, How We Are Organized, or other interesting facts, go to the PCUSA website: