Marietta First Presbyterian Church
How does a church founded nearly 175 years ago by twelve members in a frontier village nurture a membership of 2400? How can it reach out to the unchurched and often indifferent in a county whose diverse population exceeds 650,000? How carry out the command, quoted in its mission statement, to “go and make disciples of all nations,” meanwhile living up to the motto, “Where God’s House Feels Like Home”? Here are some of the ways the First Presbyterian Church of Marietta (FPC) responds to such challenges…
Picture first some 240 young people and 40 adult supporters gathered weekly in a renovated warehouse for learning, play, and worship. Youth ministry is widely seen as FPC’s greatest strength. This ministry to students in grades 5 through highschool seeks to create relationships among youth and adults that point to a relationship with Jesus Christ, with an emphasis on the joy of the Christian faith played out in everyday life. Young Presbyterians reach out to other youth, and about thirty percent of those who come to The Warehouse are from outside the congregation, many with no other church connection. Sixty percent of FPC members surveyed who had joined in the past five years reported that the Youth Group was a catalyst for their joining — adults were brought in by their children.
In 1988, youth and their advisors pioneered FPC’s hands-on ministries outside the United States with their first annual Mexico Mission.
Younger youth, in grades 7 and 8, participate each summer in a “Road Rules” trip to unannounced destinations in the US, where they perform work for needy churches and individuals.
FPC’s Mission and Service Council (current motto “Out of Our Seats and Into the Streets”) helps members witness and serve locally and around the world. Since Hurricane Katrina struck, 15 groups with a total of 260 members have helped repair, rebuild, and encourage in New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast. Families have devoted their Thanksgiving and spring vacations to such missions, and FPC has formed a working partnership with the First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans.
During Spring Break 2008, teams of students and adults (48 individuals) witnessed to Christ in Russia, the Czech Republic, and Peru, working in a soup kitchen, orphanages, and ministries to students and immigrants, while another team including families with young children worked at Camp Cherokee.
Besides budgeted items for PCUSA mission causes, each year the church sets a special Mission Focus goal: in 2008 a total of $150,000 for a local Women’s Addiction and Recovery Program, micro-enterprise loans in Peru and India, and support to FPC’s “Homegrown Missionaries.” Homegrown missionaries, mostly young adults, have served recently in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Peru, and China. Others are in campus ministries, and one leads the MAC (Men Abiding in Christ) ministry in Metro Atlanta. Each year volunteers from FPC and other churches help build houses with the Presbyterian Coalition of Cobb Habitat for Humanity; members of men’s small groups serve one night a month at a homeless shelter; others volunteer with Cobb Pregnancy Services, Meals on Wheels, and close to 100 other causes. For 20 years the church has operated Club 3:30, an after-school program where children in need relax, play, and receive help with homework.
The Christian Education Program of FPC Marietta seeks to ensure that the life of the church is grounded in and impelled by God’s Word and not focused on works alone. In 2007-08 the church has 14 adult Sunday School classes studying a wide variety of topics, under the leadership of busy lay people who make study and teaching a priority. Besides Sunday School, there are programs for children and adults on Wednesday nights and other weekday Bible studies for both men and women. FPC’s weekday preschool, founded in 1963, provides opportunities for children from 18 months to age 4 to learn in a Christian atmosphere, with a curriculum that focuses on the total child — mind, spirit, and body.
Worship, witness, and service are inseparable in the life of the Church. In order for a very large congregation to worship on the Lord’s Day, FPC Marietta offers four services. Traditional services are held in the 1854 sanctuary at 8:30 and in the multipurpose Great Hall at 9:45 and 11:15 a.m. A fourth service, also at 11:15, for those who wish to pray and praise using contemporary music and less formal language, is held in the sanctuary. This location, symbolic of the church’s rich history, is a reminder that the spirit of worship is the same though forms may differ. The five pastors take turns preaching in the different services, using the same text. The Senior Pastor sometimes preaches at all four services, moving between the third and fourth.
The mission of Music in the church (quoting FPC’s Director of Music) is to feed souls. More than 250 people, from four-year-olds to those in their eighties, dedicate their talents to nourishing church and community through leadership in worship and in special concerts they sing or play in vocal choirs, instrumental ensembles, and bell choirs.
Without congregational care, individual members of today’s large church would lack the sense of belonging and individual purpose present among the twelve members who made up the congregation in 1835. In addition to pastoral care, people in the church support one another in countless ways — through small groups such as Bible studies, prayer groups, men’s small groups (MSG, or Men Serving God), and dinner groups of eight; through Presbyterian Women; through the hands-on Martha Ministry, which helps with needs from meals to moving; and through the listening ears of a Shepherd, a Stephen Minister, or a Home Visitor. For even more members, a Sunday School Class can be the smaller church within the church that provides the opportunity to serve and be served.
Like any Presbyterian church, FPC Marietta cannot be viewed apart from its Presbytery. Besides ongoing participation in Divisions and Committees, the church has special ties to at least eight other churches in whose founding or support it played a significant part. Recently, it has nurtured a large share of Cherokee’s candidates for gospel ministry. Since the year 2000, 6 of its members have been ordained as pastors; 3 more are in process.