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PRESBYTERIANS

PRESBYTERIANS. The Presbyterian Church established itself in the Cleveland area in 1807, among the earliest Protestant denominations, and developed rapidly. Presbyterianism originated in the 16th-century Protestant Reformation and the teachings of John Calvin of Switzerland and John Knox of Scotland. Its representative form of government incorporates a "priesthood of all believers," in which clergy and laity differ only in function, and an equality of all clergy (no bishops). Governance is carried out by clergy and laity at all levels: the session (governing board of each church), presbytery (a group of churches), synod (a regional group of presbyteries), and national General Assembly (the highest legislative body). By the beginning of the 18th century, the Presbyterian church in America was a mixture of New England Puritans, Scots-Irish, Welsh, and other immigrant Presbyterians. The church endured schisms from the mid-18th century to the mid-19th, engendered by differences of doctrine, worship, practice, and political stance (particularly with regard to slavery and temperance). After expansion of the offshoots of the church, the later 19th and the 20th centuries became a time for mergers, in an attempt to unite the pieces. The most recent merger, in 1983, joined the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (historically the southern church) and the United Presbyterian Church (historically the northern church), creating the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The early history of Presbyterians in Cleveland and the WESTERN RESERVE is inextricably linked to that of the CONGREGATIONALISTS, by the Plan of Union, adopted in 1801 by the Presbyterian General Assembly and the Congregational General Assn. to establish new churches. Under the plan, churches were to be organized, served by missionaries secured for the most part by the Connecticut Mission Society (Congregational), and administered by the Presbyterian General Assembly and its synods. William Wick and JOSEPH BADGER were the first circuit missionaries for the region under the Plan of Union. The new churches, nicknamed "Presbygational," generally took one denomination name or the other based on prior relationships of the members or the preferences of the preacher, and often switched alliances. This pooling of resources was highly successful in founding churches in new communities in the Reserve and in western New York State. By the 1830s, however, differences had developed, principally over questions of polity and practice as well as slavery, and the Plan of Union was officially abrogated in 1837. As late as the 1850s, churches founded under the plan realigned their denominational relationships to suit the opinions and convictions of their membership. The two earliest Presbyterian churches in the Cleveland area, FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF EAST CLEVELAND (1807) and FIRST PRESBYTERIAN (OLD STONE) CHURCH (1820), are Plan of Union churches, as are EUCLID AVE. CONGREGATIONAL and Archwood Congregational Church. The disputes which played a role in the dissolution of the Plan of Union also caused a split in the denomination. The Utica, Geneva, and Genesee synods in New York state, and the Western Reserve synod were "exscinded" by the General Assembly in 1837, and in 1838 the assembly itself split into "Old School" and "New School" branches, the latter assumed responsibility for northern Ohio churches.

Much of the growth of the Presbyterian church in the 19th century, nationally and locally, resulted from an emphasis on education. The ideal of a laity governing the church on equal footing with clergy called for a literate membership. In the early and mid-19th century, the growing Sunday school movement fit Presbyterianism well. Old Stone Church is said to have been unable to organize a Sunday school in 1833 because none of the children could read. Thus, it organized a free school, eventually housed in the Bethel Church on Eagle St. City churches such as Old Stone, Second Presbyterian, First, East Cleveland, and NORTH PRESBYTERIAN opened Sunday schools in new neighborhoods, which later became independent congregations, including North Presbyterian Church (1859), Case Ave. (1867), Bethany Presbyterian Church (1888), and Glenville (1893).

The local Presbyterian church opened Western Reserve College at Hudson, OH, in 1826 to satisfy the pressing need for clergy in the Western Reserve. The college later moved to Cleveland and eventually became CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIV. Later in the 19th century and well into the 20th, the Presbyterian commitment to education manifested itself in the mission projects of various churches, among them: the SETTLEMENT HOUSES that ultimately became the Garden Valley Neighborhood Center (1913), started by the Woodland Ave. Church; the Playhouse Settlement (1915, later KARAMU HOUSE), a project of Second Presbyterian; and Goodrich House (1896, see GOODRICH-GANNETT NEIGHBORHOOD CTR.), a project of FLORA STONE MATHER and Old Stone Church.

Since Calvinism had spread widely in Europe, the influx of immigrants to Cleveland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries brought the founding of several ethnic Presbyterian congregations. Among these were First Magyar Presbyterian,
Slovak Calvinistic United Presbyterian in LAKEWOOD, Lake Shore Welsh Presbyterian (later E. 55th St. Presbyterian), and ST. JOHN'S BECKWITH MEMORIAL CHURCH in LITTLE ITALY. A Korean church, Korean Central Presbyterian, was established on the west side in 1983 (see KOREAN CHURCHES IN CLEVELAND). The Presbyterian church also directed other types of local missionary activity, such as the WESTERN SEAMEN'S FRIEND SOCIETY.

Much of the extension of the Presbyterian church was accomplished cooperatively within the denomination. The PRESBYTERIAN UNION, founded in 1869, planned and financed the founding of at least 40 churches in the Western Reserve between 1869-1933. Cleveland had been a headquarters of the various presbyteries governing area churches since the founding of First Presbyterian, East Cleveland, then the center of the Grand River Presbytery and later the Cleveland Presbytery. The present (1993) Presbytery of the Western Reserve dates from 1973, and was preceded by one of the same name, constituted from a merger in 1958. In 1993 the presbytery (part of the Synod of the Covenant) included Cuyahoga, Lake, Geauga, Ashtabula, Lorain, and parts of Medina, Portage, Summit, and Trumbull counties. By the 1930s, much of the Presbyterian church's mission in the Cleveland area was directed toward the maintenance of congregations and to social concerns. The local presbytery passed resolutions opposing what it considered to be objectionable enlistment methods for the state militia (1937) and condemning the treatment of Jews in Germany (1938).

Following WORLD WAR II, the Presbyterian church shared in the national experience of rapid population growth and high rate of church membership (1940s-1950s), followed by a growing disillusionment with organized religion (1960s-1990s). From 1948-62, 15 more Presbyterian churches were established in the Western Reserve. While presbytery boundaries changed several times, the steady increase in membership in local Presbyterian churches until the 1960s mirrored the growth of the Cleveland-area population: 1818, 599 members; 1900, 9,108 members; 1920, 15,724 members; 1950, 30,929 members; and 1965, 49,317 members (figures from this date on include Cuyahoga and surrounding counties). From the 1970s through the early 1990s, Presbyterian church membership declined locally as well as nationally: 1975, 29,326 local members (after a boundary realignment that put the Akron area in another presbytery); 1986, 22,710 members; and 1991, 18,865 members. The local presbytery participated in the INNER CITY PROTESTANT PARISH, begun in 1955 on the near west side, and established an Office of Religion & Race (June 1963, the first such office in the country), a Hunger Program (1976), and a peacemaking project, Swords into Plowshares (1980). In 1993 the Presbytery of the Western Reserve was composed of 56 churches; its office was located at 3812 EUCLID AVE.

George D. Barnum

Case Western Reserve Univ. Libraries


Ludlow, Rev. and Mrs. Arthur C. History of Cleveland Presbyterianism (1896).

Archives of the Presbytery of the Western Reserve, Presbytery Office, Cleveland.

See also RELIGION.