Celebration of Portsmouth’s First Presbyterian Church

Randy Rucker

Into May of 1809 the fertile Scioto Valley was densely wooded, damp and swampy. This condition made the vicinity unhealthful and those who finally cleared the valley suffered much from malaria. A Thomas Ashe made the journey from Portsmouth Ohio to Chillicothe in the summer of 1807. In 1809 an account of his observations was published in London. His little published volume was titled, “travels in America”. Ashe pictured the Scioto Valley as a wilderness so thick, deep, dark and impenetrable that the light, much less the air of heaven was nearly denied access”.

In only eight years following this publication a church was built in a town not yet a state. On a Sunday my own group of adventurers traveling once again by some chance, into the Bicentennial Celebration of Portsmouth Ohio’s First Presbyterian Church and what a grand day it was.

As has happened before we messed up on the church start time with Beverly and I arriving early (around 9 a.m.). We found start time would be more like 10:45. The Neff’s were second arrivals and found us enjoying the wonderful church gazebo and conversation amidst a slight rain. As they arrived we debated whether the berry trees covered with birds were crab apple or wild cherry. My defining them as wild cherry eventually won out and was verified. The numerous birds coming in enjoying those berries I claimed to be cedar wax wings, though not verified. Well we talked about this and that and found ourselves at the beginning of a wonderful day.

When the opportunity to enter arose we did so and found the months of obvious planning had come together for the big day celebrating 200 years as a church. We began meeting several who had travelled far for the big event. There was Sue and Mike Moore of Bowling Green Kentucky. His remembrances included playing basketball in the basement gym as a boy. His information was that building for the new church at this site began in 1849, being finished in 1851. (Keep in mind it was a church before there was a building here) There had been objections to building here because the site was too far uptown. He said it was an Episcopalian that influenced choice of this site.

It is said this was the site of a carpentry shop. As the committee looked around an Episcopalian (unidentified but their church is across the street) walked up to them and said if you build here I will donate $100.00 and the rest is history.

Call to worship was by Pastor Bruce Kreutzer with a congregation/Pastor prayer giving thanks, a hymn and reading of “The Apostles Creed”. Then there was communal confession by Pastor/Dr. Jeannie Harsh which was a reading and prayer.

Tom Rice, a Pastor from Worthington Ohio came here 14 months ago to help with a construction project and was so inspired by the congregation of this church that he and a committee from his church had attended today’s service. He extended a blessing as such, “Bless all that is, what has been and what will be!”

Pastor Evan Fisher shared a prayer of illumination. Then there was first reading from first Peter 5:6–11. Following was a children’s story for a group they called the young Disciples. During this presentation and with children up front the anniversary birthday cake was presented with the singing of Happy Birthday.

Pastor/Dr. Stan Webster delivered the message “To know God and Make God Known”! He opened with a prayer thanking God for the birthday of our church. Thank you for this place, Thank you for these people and the love we have for each other. Amen

One gentleman remembers going high into the cupola to ring the bell. The church tracker organ was purchased in 1892 and was refurbished in 2017. As I recall it was said the church had survived fire as well as flood. The pastor asked if the world has changed much over the last 200 years? All of those years ago the church history shows that if you would have fallen asleep during service (or if your cell phone went off — bringing a chuckle) you would have been tickled with a feather stick. That service was being provided today by Ladd Dunham as Chris Neff could tell you. He quoted John 17:1, Jesus looked up to heaven. Throughout he kidded he had only so many minutes for his sermon, fifteen at this point. Oh well, I’d better get started and he referenced having 2 good pastors (this reference pointing out that the Pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church has and it’s congregation were also in attendance. He said that the best description of what Jesus seeks in a church is described in John 17. “I pray that these people and your churches may be one”. The prayer for unity is here. I ask that on behalf of those who believe in Jesus Christ (his word) to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ into this community,

K. Lee Scott led an Offertory presentation “Gracious spirit dwell with me” and 2 hymns including Doxology. During the communion there was the entrance of a Professional Graded Bagpipes playing Amazing Grace. His name is Ryan Praskovich and he has travelled internationally playing the pipes. It was an exceptionally touching event

As I read the descriptive history in the church program it took me a while to remember the author’s name of Mary Elizabeth Schwartz. The description was based on a history book by her. It had struck me, how could I forget Mary Elizabeth Schwartz? As a page editor of the Ohio University Portsmouth newspaper “Perception” she had been our instructor/sponsor and was one of those great influences in my life in the area of writing, speaking publicly and such as that. How could I be so old to remember this lovely person that so many will not remember. Such it is as Beverly, I and the Neff’s find our eyes open to so many people to meet and also to remember from our past! God bless…

See ya in church.


Randy Rucker

Reach Randy Rucker at [email protected]

Reach Randy Rucker at [email protected]