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Knoxville's oldest church celebrates 220th anniversary | Community Spirit

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Knoxville's oldest church celebrates 220th anniversary
Knoxville's oldest church celebrates 220th anniversary

Knoxville's oldest church celebrated 220 years of history and worship Sunday.

First Presbyterian Church was founded in what's now downtown Knoxville in 1792 and plays a part in the story of the city's origins.

The church has endured a war at home and development but they've made sure to preserve their part of Knoxville's history.

The church has seen three sanctuaries and a lot of change, but the message has stayed the same.

"Our motto is, 'For Christ in the heart of Knoxville.' And doing that for 220 years is quite a celebration," said Senior Pastor, Rev. Dr. William Pender.

Sunday they celebrated with a worship service and dinner in the middle of a closed State Street. They invited city leaders and church alumni to take part.

For families rooted deep, it was time to remember what this church has meant to them personally.

"There are eight generations of my family that have gone to this church," said Ellen Liston. "My parents were married in this church, I was married in this church 30 years later. So it's just a very deep sense of belonging and tradition."

It was also a time to remind each other of the church's rich history.

Knoxville's pioneer and founder James White donated the land for the church next to his fort.

"He asked of his son-in-law Charles McClung to reserve his turnip patch for a church and burying ground," said Church Historian, Pat Armstrong.

The turnip patch became Knoxville's first church. The graveyard adjacent to the sanctuary was used before Knoxville became a city.

"We actually have 3 U.S. Senators buried here. William Blount was the earliest senator," Armstrong said. Blount was also Tennessee's first governor.

James White and Samuel Carrick, founder of Blount College later the University of Tennessee, are also buried there.

The church also served as the Union Army's barracks and stables during the Civil War.

"In 1863, the church was actually shut down by the Union forces that were in Knoxville," said Armstrong.

It was East Tennessean, President Andrew Johnson, who gave the church back to the congregation after the war.

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