The First Presbyterian Society of Athens was organized in the autumn of 180y by the Rev. Jacob Lindley. The original members of the organization were but nine in number, viz: Joshua Wyatt and wife, Josiah Coe, Arthur Coates, Dr. Eliphaz Perkins, Alvan Bingham, Mrs. Sally Foster and the Rev. Jacob Lindley and wife. Public service was held for a time in the little brick school house which stood just east of the present site of the Presbyterian church, and afterward in the court house until the year 1828, when the present brick church was built. In 1815, the church numbered forty-seven members, and a revival that year added forty-three. In the year 1820, there were fiftysix added to the church, and the whole number of church members at that time was 177.
In 1827, steps were taken for the full organization and incorporation of the society. The following document, though incomplete and without date, possesses some interest as illustrating one step in the history of the church. The original paper, in the hand-writing of Joseph B. Miles, is yellow, time-worn, and mutilated -the last page with the signatures being lost.
“ARTICLES OF ASSOCIATION.
“We, the undersigned, taking into consideration the great importance of religious and moral instruction, and believing that the regular and stated preaching of the gospel is necessary for the promotion of these virtues; and as it is ordained of God that they who preach the gospel, shall live by the gospel, and ‘the laboror is worthy of his hire,’ and in order to obtain the same, we who receive spiritual food ought to contribute of our earthly substance, as God shall enable us, to those who dispense to us the bread of life, and in order the more effectually to promote these objects, do enter into the following articles of association.
Town and Township of Athens..
I. This society shall be known by the name of the hirst Presbyterian Society of Athens.
II. There shall he a meeting of this society on the first Monday of May, annually, for the purpose of electing the officers of the society, amending or adding to the articles of association and doing such other business as may be necessary for the society to transact.
III. The officers of this society, shall consist of three trustees, a clerk, and collector, who shall also be treasurer, to hold their offices for one year, and until others are chosen in their places, to be chosen by a majority of voters present.
IV. It shall be the duty of the trustees to hire preaching, either by the week, month, or year, as they may think best, to be paid in the kind, and to the amount of subscriptions, to settle with the persons employed; also, to solicit subscriptions, receive donations or contributions, for the purposes of defraying the expenses of preaching, and to give public notice of the annual meetings of the society. Said trustees shall meet on their own adjournment, from time to time, as they may think best for the benefit of the society.
V. It shall be the duty of the clerk to keep a fair record of the doings of the society, and a fair list of the subscribers’ names, with the amount subscribed, and the time of subscribing, and to make out a list of subscriptions to the collector.
VI. It shall be the duty of the collector to collect and receive all moneys or other property due the society by subscription or otherwise, and to pay out the same by order of the trustees, which order shall be signed by the chairman of the trustees.
VII. No person shall have a vote to control the funds of this society after it is organized, unless they shall subscribe something towards the support of preaching, and no member shall be eligible to office until after he shall have subscribed.
VIII. On the death, removal, or resignation of any of the officers of the society, it shall be the duty of the trustees to appoint a person or persons to fill the place, until the next annual election.
IX. It shall be in the power of any three subscribers to call a meeting of the society at any time when they may think necessary by giving written notice in three public places in the town of Athens, setting forth the objects of said meeting, and having it proclaimed on the Sabbath before said meeting in the congregation.
X. Should the funds of the society be deemed sufficient at any time to settle a regular preacher of the gospel, by themselves, or with the joint subscriptions of the adjoining settlements, and the society should deem it necessary, it shall be the duty of the trustees in such case, to invite preachers as candidates, but no preacher shall be regularly settled without the consent of two-thirds of the members present at a meeting of the society for the purpose of giving a call.
XI. The society shall have power to dismiss any officer of the society for misconduct, by a vote of a majority of the members present, at a meeting of the society.
XII. Owing to the scarcity of money, any of the kinds of country produce are to be received in payment of subscriptions, named in the thirteenth article of this association, the prices of such articles to be fixed by the trustees of the society, on or before the first of November, annually, and any payment made by the subscribers to the person employed to preach, and his receipt produced to the collector, shall be a sufficient voucher for the amount on his subscription.
XIII. All subscriptions shall be specified in dollars and cents, and we do hereby agree to pay the several amounts annexed to our names for the above purpose, in cash, or wheat, flour, rye, oats, corn, beef, pork, flax, wool, or country linen, at the prices affixed.”
Though among the earliest religious societies organized in the state, this church was not incorporated till 1828. The act, passed February 7th of that year, names as the incorporators, Columbus Bierce, Isaac Taylor, Joseph B. Miles, Charles Shipman, Francis Beardsley, Samuel Miller, Eben Foster, John Perkins, Hull Foster, John Gillmore, and Cephas Carpenter, and Messrs. Miles, Bierce, Taylor, Beardsley, and Carpenter, were constituted trustees of the church, to act as such till the first annual meeting. The Rev. Jacob Lindley acted as moderator of the session and pastor until about 1828, since when, fifteen ministers have served the church either as stated supply or as pastors, among whom will be recognized the names of some very devout and able men. The entire list in the order of time is as follows:
Rev. Jacob Lindley, contemporary; Rev. Samuel Davies Hoge, contemporary; Rev. Robert G. Wilson, Rev. John Spaulding (now of New York city), Rev. William Burton, Rev. Timothy Stearns, Rev. N. B. Purington, Rev. William H. McGuffey, Rev. Wells Andrews, Rev. Aaron Williams, Rev. Moses A. Hoge, Rev. Addison Ballard, Rev. Alfred Ryors, Rev. S. Dieffendorf, Rev. John H. Pratt, Rev. James F. Holcomb.
The Rev. John H. Pratt began his labors here in 1854, laboring one year as “stated supply,” after which he received a call as pastor. During the period of his pastorate (fourteen years), two hundred members were added to the church. The deaths and removals of members during the same period were, however, numerous -the latter especially so-so that the present active membership is only about one hundred and twenty-five. During the past few years the church has been rebuilt, and a lecture-room added. The old-fashioned, lofty pulpit (looking up toward which, twenty-five years ago, little children of the writer’s age, used to strain their necks till they ached), has given place to a modern platform. In those days, the pulpit being at the front end of the church, the congregation faced about on taking their seats. Thus, facing toward the preacher and the pulpit, they looked also toward the front doors, out of which, as they stood open in fine summer weather, the juveniles could gaze longingly and hear the lowing of the cattle, and watch the entrance of the sabbath-breaking bees, “forever going and coming;” or curiously speculate about the wicked, solitary horseback traveler who, with dusty portmanteau, pursuing his journey through the village, just then passed the church. But ” tempora mutantur et nos mutamur cum illis.” The times are changed, and we with them. The old pastors are gone; the gray heads of twenty-five years ago have many of them been laid in their last sleep, and the active men of the church then, are the gray heads now. The little boys, whose will then was “the wind’s will,” and whose thoughts were “long, long thoughts,” are in turn, become the active men of the present day. It is their children now who are looking at the green hills, listening to the humming bees and thinking strange, mysterious thoughts. Happy children if their childhood be as serene as their fathers’ was-if their sabbaths be as quiet and their surroundings as healthful as were those of the old village church.
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