The origin of First Presbyterian Church dates back to the mid-1950’s when Gordon College and Divinity School moved out of Boston to the northeast coastal region of Massachusetts known as the North Shore. In 1959, a group called the Presbyterian Fellowship began meeting for Sunday Services in the homes of two Gordon professors and their wives: Charles and Ruth Schauffele, and Burton and Esther Goddard. Worship was held in the Goddards’ living room and Sunday school met at the Schauffeles’ home.
In 1960, the church was received as First Presbyterian Church of Hamilton by the Presbytery of New York and New England of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The new church purchased the former Methodist church building on Railroad Avenue in Hamilton in 1961.
In 1964, the church called Wendell L. Rockey as its first pastor. He and his wife Trudi led the fledgling congregation through its formative years before taking another call from the Presbyterian Church of Cape Cod in 1975.
In 1976, FPC called Kenneth Ironside as its second pastor. Under the leadership of Ken and his wife Valerie for the next seven years, the church continued to grow, with particular influx from the Gordon College and Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary communities. In the early 80’s Ken accepted another call from a church in New Jersey.
James Kern was FPC’s third pastor from 1983 to 1990. In 1986, the church formed an expansion committee in response to the church’s continuing growth. This resulted in the planting of another church (Merrimack Valley Presbyterian Church) in nearby North Andover in 1987 under the leadership of John Van Meerbeke, at the time a recent graduate of Gordon-Conwell. It also resulted in the purchase of our current property in 1988, formerly occupied by a retail store called The Christmas Angel that operated out of the current church office building. Jim and his wife Nan left FPC in 1990 to take a position at the Emmanuel Gospel Center in Boston.
God was quick to fill our new church building during the 1990’s. Under the leadership of its fourth pastor, Charles Wingard, attendance at worship services more than doubled. During this time, the church actively focused on foreign and local missions, sending missionaries to many areas around the globe. It also developed a vibrant youth ministry under the leadership of youth pastor Jon Evans, who is still with us today. By 1997, the church had launched a building program for a new Christian Life Center, which now enables us to conduct most of our activities on the church property.
Soon after the turn of the century, FPC called its fifth senior pastor, David O’Leary, as well as its first associate pastor, Greg Hills. Under their leadership the church continued to grow, eventually leading to the addition of a third worship service that adopted a more contemporary style. David and his wife Debbie led the church through a time of economic uncertainty emphasizing both the sovereignty and the grace of God in Christ.
In 2010, the church took another leap of faith by calling another pastor Derek Baker, in anticipation of launching a second campus, which began in Danvers in September 2015. Derek brings a set of gifts that include church planting, preaching, teaching, music, and shepherding.
In 2012, Greg Hills became FPC’s sixth senior (or “lead”) pastor. Under God’s sovereign guidance, we are seeking to realize our vision of More People, More Like Christ. We desire to be a people who Exalt in every moment, Equip for every purpose, and Extend to everyone.
From 2014-2016 FPC saw continued growth and purposeful transitions and expansion. We strategically adopted three overseas locations, referred to as “global epicenters” for global missions focus. Locally, we launched a second campus in Danvers and began a building campaign for campus expansion in Ipswich. We also began a denominational transition, into the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).
2020 brought many changes and transitions, but also exciting events to our community. The COVID-19 pandemic caused us to offer our worship services only online for several months before we were able to resume limited in-person worship, both indoors and outside. Construction began on our new “Glue” space that will connect the worship building and the CLC building. This will provide us an excellent new space to welcome people and to minister to those that are present here. By the end of 2020, our former “Danvers” satellite campus became a particularized congregation now known as Center Grace Church. Pastor Greg Hills additionally announced his resignation as Lead Pastor so he could pursue ministry within the PCA, working to recruit missionaries for Mission to the World.
First Presbyterian Church North Shore 1955-2000
A Measure of the Providences of God in Hamilton and Ipswich Massachusetts
A Book by John (Jack) Haas
This account of the early history and ministry of the first four pastors describes the development of a presbyterian and reformed congregation from a few pioneering students, Dutch immigrants, and Gordon College and Divinity School faculty.
This book is available on Amazon.com.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Author John (Jack) Haas (1930-2020) and his family moved to Hamilton MA and FPCNS in 1961 and served in many areas of church life during the following years. Both Jack and wife Ann taught in the natural sciences at Gordon College until retirement. Since then he worked as a consultant with the American Scientific Affiliation, an international organization of men and women in science and related disciplines who investigate points of intersection between Christianity and the study of the natural world. He was particularly involved in disseminating this information through publications and a website to students and the church worldwide. Jack went home to glory on February 12, 2020.