Photo by Heather Middleton
By Joel Hall
In 1825, 33 years before the establishment of Clayton County, Scottish settlers founded a Presbyterian church in what was once known as the Philadelphia community -- a small, rural, farming settlement located between modern-day Morrow and Forest Park.
Those active in the early church include some of Clayton's oldest families: the Huie, Orr, Lasseter, and Kemper families. The descendants of those families are still recognizable names in local leadership.
While the demographics of Clayton have changed, Philadelphia Presbyterian Church, at 351 Morrow Road in Forest Park, still exists as a community gathering place. The church will celebrate its 185th year of existence on Sunday, Sept. 26, during its annual Homecoming Celebration.
According to Rev. Spencer Frye, who has served as pastor for 14 years, the church is the county's oldest, unmoved church, having met for service for the past 185 years. He said it has long served as a community focal point.
"When this church was built, this was all bare land that was owned by the Huies," Frye said. "Everything kind of grew up around it."
Over the course of its history, the church has been reconstructed four times, each time at the same location. According to church records, Gen. William T. Sherman used the church as a camp site during his march to Savannah, following the conquest of Atlanta.
On May 15, 1975, a fire destroyed much of the church's sanctuary, but allowed the church to expand its floor space and add a decorative steeple. On Sept. 14, the National Society of Colonial Dames XVII Century declared the church an historic landmark.
"It's amazing that God has planted this church here, and that it hasn't shut down," Frye said. "We have stood the test of time. Whatever you sow, you reap, and we have sown a lot of good things, and I think that's why we are still here."
According to church officials, the church currently has about 120 members, 60 to 70 of whom are active. Every five years, however, many of those with ties to the church come from all around to celebrate the church's homecoming, according to church librarian, Diane Taylor Banke.
"I think we've had a strong devotion to this church by its members," Banke said. "That goes back to it being a family. That's one of the reasons why it has lasted as long as it has.
"It's really hard to give up family," Banke continued. "That's why people who have moved out of the district still gather here, because this is their support group."
The Homecoming Celebration for Philadelphia Presbyterian Church will start at 9:30 a.m., Sunday, with a "meet and greet," with services starting at 11 a.m. A luncheon will follow the service at around noon.
The celebration is open to the public. For more information, call (404) 366-1851.