By Lance Hickey
Marshall – In the quaint, highly popular town of Marshall, the county seat of Madison County, lies a unique and historic church which has impacted scores of people in the county.
Marshall Presbyterian Church, located on South Main Street in Downtown Marshall, continues to use its resources to help unite the Marshall community and serve as the place of worship where I had the opportunity to cover in our Where We Worship series. I attended service on January 27.
Established in 1898 by three pastors from Holston Presbytery, Marshall Presbyterian Church, formerly known as Couper Memorial, opened its first service to the public on the evening of November 12. Reverend Francis A. McGraw delivered the church’s first message while Reverends Thomas Lawrence and C.A. Duncan help facilitate the service.
Soon after the establishment of the organization, the church joined the Presbytery and would later be known as Couper Memorial Presbyterian Church before changing to its current name. The church dedicated its current building, a facility that cost approximately $70,000 (more than $729,000 in today’s money) to construct, on June 4, 1950, according to church records.
Built high in stature to outlast flooding by the river, the property has continued to serve as a beacon of hope for many in the Marshall community. Known for its service to the community, Marshall Presbyterian Church recently held an offering benefitting both Madison County Hospice and Neighbors in Need. The church also holds many charity benefits at its facility on a yearly basis, while also hosting the local Alcoholics Anonymous and Boy Scouts groups, among others.
Reverend Melissa Upchurch currently serves as the senior pastor, leading the day-to-day operations of the organization. Ordained in August of 2011, she has served as pastor for more than seven years. Originally from Arkansas, Upchurch heeded her calling to become a pastor following a career as a journalist and technology writer. She attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, prior to accepting her current role at Marshall Presbyterian Church.
Service began at 11 a.m. as the crowded Downtown Marshall parking lot filled to the brim. As I walked into the sanctuary, I was greeted by several enthusiastic members of the congregation. Sitting in a burgundy wooden pew in the back of the sanctuary, I quickly became aware of the spectacular, memorable architecture of the room. The large room was filled with Appalachian wood. Stained-glass windows with a cross on them brought a charming and enlightening ambiance to the sanctuary.
Service commenced as the piano played in the background. The flock began to sing “Awesome God” by Rich Mullins before a woman and church leader welcomed the congregation and the announcements stated. The Call to Worship began to be relayed as people rose to their feet. Parishioners then bowed their heads as the opening prayer was stated.
As service continued, the church sang the first hymn of the day called “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” The congregation sang aloud in a united, passionate voice before the public unison prayer of confession. A pardon of assurance followed, was communicated by Upchurch.
Several more hymns were played before Upchurch stepped forward to communicate her Sunday morning message. Dressed in a ryasa-like black robe and donning a white and gold collar, she spoke about using the gifts God has entrusted all of humanity. As she finished the communicative progression of her sermon, the congregation took communion before stating the Benediction and service dismissed.
Service at Marshall Presbyterian Church proved to be a welcoming and thought-provoking gathering, mixed with a traditional presentation style. The church community showed why it is so valued and esteemed to those in Marshall and Madison County. While the congregation has had a lasting impact on the Marshall community, look for Marshall Presbyterian Church to continue leaving its marks on this highly-regarded, eclectic mountainside town.