Branson’s oldest church marks 100 years

First Presbyterian Church in Branson is celebrating a century of worship and service to its community. The highpoint of the year-long First Century Celebration is Sunday, March 18th when the congregation will celebrate, to the day and nearly to the hour, the establishment of the church 100 years ago.

The worship service will include special music, featuring the accompaniment of Credo Sinfonia, an eight piece orchestra from Russia. Credo Sinfonia is touring the United States under the sponsorship of The Messiah Project in Springfield. The special Sunday service will also incorporate a special history reading and an old fashioned potluck dinner will follow the service.

First Presbyterian Church Founding
First Presbyterian Church was established in Branson when the town had three general merchandise stores, a meat market, two hotels, a barber shop, photography gallery, two doctors, a drug store, a lumberyard, a livery stable, a blacksmith shop, a newspaper, and a planned school, but no church.

One of the two doctors was Elizabeth McIntyre who circulated a petition throughout the town that would establish a Sunday school in the new school building. The Sunday school was opened and rapidly overflowed the small community school. So townspeople began looking into building the town’s first church building.

About the same time, a Presbyterian delegation was traveling to Forsyth to establish a Presbyterian School, later known as the School of The Ozarks – now College of The Ozarks. The delegation would come by rail and stop over in Branson. They learned about the need for a church.

Eventually, The Reverend A. Y. Beatie, the first principal of the School of the Ozarks, spent enormous amounts of time evangelizing, preaching and promoting the establishment of a church in Branson. The citizens of Branson set out to build a new church under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church. However, the use of the church building was to be free to any denomination that wished to use it.

There were ice cream socials, pie suppers and taffy pulls and fundraising by civic clubs. Seldom did a single project net more than $10. In March 1907, Reverend Beatie presided over 26 professions of faith and baptisms in the White River.

At last, that same month, the Presbyterian Church Society was formed and later that year, A.Y. Beatie’s son, the Reverend W. E. Beatie was installed as the first pastor of the Branson Presbyterian Church. But the church had no home.

The Branson Townsite Company donated land for a new church to be built. The St. Louis architect, who designed the School of the Ozarks also drew the plans for the stately Gothic Revival style Branson Church. Local craftsmen and volunteers worked on the church and the hand-cut limestone blocks were hauled a mile uphill by wagon from the first cut for the railroad. The etched frosted glass windows, heavy solid wood doors, and perfect narrow planked hardwood floors were specially made by a lumber company in Aurora, Missouri.

In spite of financial setbacks and cost overruns and the loss of their pastor, the Branson Church was completed and dedicated in April 2, 1911. The building, known today as The Old Stone Church, cost $3,500 shared by the Presbytery and the people of Branson. Additionally the people raised $500 for pews and $150 toward support of a coming pastor.

It was said that only the whistle of the train passing through Branson was louder than the bell in the tall belfry when it called worshipers. They came by foot, horseback, buggy, and boat. Branson’s Presbyterian Church became the town’s first stone building and it has stood proudly through the years meeting its purpose to serve not only Presbyterians but the entire community.

Commemoration Continues through 2007

The First Century Celebration will continue throughout 2007 with:
– the actual 100 year commemoration on March 18th,
– an old fashion Resurrection Sunday on April 8th,
– a baptism and recognition of those living members and former members who were baptized at First Presbyterian Church on May 27th,
– renewal of vows open to all who were married at the church on June 10th,
– a homecoming for all members past and present in July,
– an old fashion Sunday and ice cream social open to all churches in Branson in August,
– a choir reunion in September,
– a pastor reunion in October,
– a performance of The Autobiography of An Old Pew in November and
– an Old Fashioned Christmas in December.

But the celebration will not just focus on history. Pastor Chris Williams said the congregation would also look forward to the next 100 years and what First Presbyterian Church must do to serve the faithful and the community into the next century.

“Christianity puts a greater emphasis on the future and so, while it will be special to remember our roots, we will also welcome the opportunities for First Presbyterian Church going forward,” Williams said.

Asked about the church’s original promise to make its facilities open to other congregations, Williams said, “In fact, right now these facilities are also being used by the local Anglican Church and Church Army, not to mention Boy Scouts and a variety of other community organizations.”

First Presbyterian Church started the Presbyterian Pre-School and started YoungLife, now known as K-Life Ministries.

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