The church will celebrate its past, present and future at its 8:30 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. worship services Nov. 14. with former and present pastors. Historical exhibits at the church will be open for five days to the public as well, beginning Nov. 7.
Established in 1835, just one year after the city of Marietta was incorporated, First Presbyterian traces its history back to 12 pioneer settlers who first met in a log cabin. It has since grown into one of Marietta's most venerable institutions with 2,200 members.
The church, located at 189 Church St., completed a $750,000 renovation and debt retirement fundraising effort, which has included installing a new white, cast aluminum steeple atop the bell tower of the old sanctuary, built it 1854. It is the fourth steeple in church history.
Renovations have occurred throughout the history of First Presbyterian, evidence of its continued presence and growth in the community.
"We have become more welcoming to new people," said Nancy MacPherson, 76, of Marietta, chairwoman of anniversary celebration committee.
"The vast majority of the people that are in this church now are not what we call Old Mariettans. We have a lot of Old Mariettans because we're in the city. But we have people from other races and from other nations, which we did not have during my childhood."
While First Presbyterian has grown and changed over 175 years, it has also taken pride in its history.
The family of Claire Francis of Marietta has attended First Presbyterian for several generations. Today, her family continues to sit in pew No. 23 at the front of the old sanctuary, where services are sometimes conducted.
"We've had five generations of weddings in this sanctuary," said Francis, 67, standing in the impressive building, which has wood floors and a coffered ceiling.
A stage presentation of the church history was performed in October. "Keeping Up With God" was written by member Patricia Sprinkle, a Smyrna author, and performed by dozens of other members. In the play, an angel of the church gives a report to the congregation.
"He interviewed people from five different generations about what happened in your period," said Sprinkle, 67. "What it tried to show was God at work in the world and us as a part of that."
Five exhibits that will be on display take visitors on a journey through 175 years of history. One features a replica of an old "Indian house" used for early worship services. Another exhibit highlights the explosion of missions during the 1980s. There's also an exhibit where visitors can learn about a hymn that remained a church mystery until a member recently solved it.
The exhibit schedule is: 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday and Nov. 14; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 9 and Nov. 11; and 4-8 p.m. Nov. 10.
In 2000, the church published a book detailing its history titled, "God at Work: A History of the First Presbyterian Church of Marietta, Georgia 1835-2000." In the book are the stories of how the church served as a Union Army hospital during the Civil War, how church services expanded to accommodate increased membership after World War II, and the construction of new facilities, including a fellowship hall and educational wings, beginning in the early 1970s.
Marietta native Jim Corley, a church historian, has been a First Presbyterian member since the 1930s. He has fond memories of past pastor Dr. John H. Patton, who served from 1891 to 1938.
Patton had a profound influence on the church during his 47-year tenure. A Tennessee native, Patton was tutored in college by the father of President Woodrow Wilson, according to "God at Work." He and his family arrived at First Presbyterian when there were about 200 members. "His pastorate was almost without parallel in length of service and harmony between pastor and people," the book said.
"One thing interesting to me, and it sort of came out in the play, was the representation of Dr. Patton as a young man, a human, a person apparently well-known for his jokes and sense of humor," said Corley. "I think it covered him as a dignified older figure in the pulpit."
Another past pastor Dr. James O. Speed, who served from 1972 to 1999, is one of the ministers who'll speak at the celebration service, which will include a procession and anthem. The church's fellowship hall is named after Speed.
Much like in its early pioneer days, when circuit preachers preached, First Presbyterian today is without a permanent, senior pastor. Its most recent pastor resigned in June and the church plans to form a committee to begin a search for a new pastor.
Until then, three associate pastors are ministering the church during the transition period.
John Wells, executive pastor, said First Presbyterian is as excited about its future as it is proud of its past.
"We've got a lot of excitement about new programs and new ministries," he said. 'We are looking forward to 2011 and just really springboard from claiming our history and living it out in the future."