Earlier History of First, Brick, Central, and Downtown Presbyterian Churches
In 1815, Hannah Scrantom and Julia Wheelock started religious services in Rochesterville. In 1817, the First Presbyterian Church occupied a small, wood-framed building on what is now State St. In 1823, they inhabited a stone structure on S. Fitzhugh and then an edifice on S. Plymouth Ave in 1871. In 1825, a group left First Church to form the Second Presbyterian Church occupying the former First Church building on State St. By 1828, they had built a Brick Church on N. Fitzhugh. In 1860 they built a new sanctuary on the same site which was rebuilt in 1904, and is our present building. In 1836, a group left First Church to form the Bethel Presbyterian Church on Washington St. They then built a new building on N. Plymouth in 1858 and named it Central Church. The large sanctuary/auditorium was completed in 1891.
Other churches grew out of these three churches: Brighton (1817), Third (1827), Westminster (1868), North (1884). Members also helped in the formation of John Knox, John Calvin, and Christ Clarion, among others.
These three churches, along with individual members enriched the community and the world. In 1822, a meeting was held at the home of Mrs. Everard Peck of First Church for the purpose of founding the Rochester Female Society. In 1826, the Franklin Institute was founded under the leadership of Dr. Penney, First Church minister. We know it today as RIT. The year 1910 found the opening of the Brick Church Institute Building, a predecessor to the YMCA with accommodations for 80 men and recreational facilities. One of the first radio broadcasts of a worship service occurred in 1930 from Central Church. In 1958, Central Church's Rev. Dane R. Gordon initiated its Religious Arts Festival, which gained national stature over its 13 years. The following year, Brick Church started a weekly, half hour children's television program called Katie's House.
Today, the First Church building is the home of the Central Church of Christ, an African-American congregation. The Central Church complex is the home of the Hochstein School of Music. The Brick Church complex is the home of the Downtown Presbyterian Church.
Downtown Presbyterian Church has been part of many movements for peacemaking and social transformation. In September, 1970, the local Selective Service offices, as well as other federal offices, were ransacked by a group of students opposed to the war in Vietnam. Central Church allowed the students space to meet in during the trial. Downtown Church declared itself a More Light congregation in 1979, welcoming gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender members and friends. During 1984-6, the Gomez family, which had fled El Salvador seeking sanctuary in the US, was housed in the Institute Building. In 1993, the Session (governing board) formed "That All May Freely Serve" and called the Rev. Dr. Jane Adams Spahr as an evangelist to help bring equality in the Presbyterian Church, USA with regard to sexual orientation.
In 2003, Downtown Church welcomed Spiritus Christi Church as a neighbor in the building complex.