The Bridge to Beginning

The Bridge to Beginning

Lisa Allgood, Executive Presbyter

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” – 1 Timothy 5:17

On June 4, 2023, the historic congregation of Covenant-First Presbyterian Church called a new pastor, the Reverend Dan Turis.  Dan was the Associate Minister of Outreach for First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, with experience connecting churches to communities, helping churches define the vision for their communities, and training others in discipleship and outreach. Dan was a campus minister for over ten years, at the University of Kentucky, the University of Pittsburgh, and at The Ohio State University. Originally from southwestern Pennsylvania, Dan is a graduate of Waynesburg University and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and is most welcome to the Presbytery!

A brief history of Covenant-First is always fun, because its beginnings are concurrent to the founding of Cincinnati in 1788, and the names of its founders and first members will be oh-so-familiar! In 1789, surveyor Israel Ludlow laid out plans for the settlement that was to become Cincinnati (originally called Fort Washington, then Losantiville, then Cincinnati).  The plans included a public area between Fourth, Fifth, Walnut, and Main streets that held space for a Presbyterian church.  On October 16, 1790, First Presbyterian was organized on the west side of Main Street just north of Fourth Street.  Today, a memorial plaque honoring Ludlow is prominently featured in the courtyard of Covenant-First, and a bronze plaque on Main Street is embedded in the western sidewalk, marking the location of that first church.

To build First Presbyterian, subscriptions were taken from every male resident.  Rev. James Kemper committed five dollars, five days’ work, five days’ work by his oxen team, and five boat planks.  The 30′ x 40′ frame building was the first Presbyterian church in the Northwest Territory.  As the direct descendant of that early church, Covenant-First is the oldest Presbyterian congregation west of the Allegheny Mountains.

The rough wooden church had wooden plank seats that were, of course, without backs; worshipers held their trusty rifles between their knees. As the church was officially in Indian territory, church members were required to carry their rifles and were fined if they failed to do so.  There was no pulpit, and Rev. Kemper often delivered sermons while standing on a barrel.

Although formally First Presbyterian Church, as the first church organized in the Cincinnati settlement it became known simply as “First Church.”  Within a few years, the congregation had outgrown the original building.  The church divided forming a second church in Duck Creek in 1796 that later became the Pleasant Ridge Presbyterian Church in 1818, but the original church had a capital campaign that raised over $16,000 from such distinguished Cincinnati icons as Judge Jacob Burnet, Martin Baum, William Lytle, and Nicholas Longworth.  The new Cincinnati structure replaced Kemper’s original primitive building, and was completed in 1815, featuring two square towers with conical turrets (thus the building was informally called “the two-horned church”). 

As the congregation continued to grow, an independent group branched off and in 1830 built the Second Presbyterian Church, a Grecian-styled church on the south side of Fourth Street between Vine and Race (later the site of McAlpin’s Department Store).  This structure can be seen clearly in the iconic Cincinnati Daguerreotype on display at the Cincinnati Public Library. ​In 1851, First Presbyterian built yet another elegant new church on Fourth Street near the location of Kemper’s first church and the subsequent two-horned church.  The Gothic-styled church and its 285-foot neo-Gothic spire topped with a golden hand pointing heavenward was declared “the finest west of the Alleghenies”; demolished in 1936, the Cincinnati branch of the Federal Reserve Bank currently occupies the site. 

Continuing to grow throughout the 1870s, Second Presbyterian selected a new, serene, rustic location at Eighth and Elm Streets — outside the hustle and bustle of the financial district — for the site of its new church, erected at a cost of $250,000.  The magnificent building was dedicated on April 11, 1875, and, through a series of mergers, eventually became the home of what is now Covenant-First Presbyterian Church, an amalgamation completed in 1933 representing the unification of the Presbyterian churches planted over the course of two centuries: First Presbyterian Church, First Reformed Presbyterian Church, West Liberty Presbyterian Church/Second German Presbyterian Church, Second Presbyterian Church, Church of the Covenant, Fifth Presbyterian Church/The Scots Church, and Central Presbyterian Church.

Today the church, on the National Register of Historic Places, graces the transition point between the business district, a growing residential community near Piatt Park, and OTR.  With vibrant music and a traditional worship service, the church attracts visitors to downtown, city and suburban worshippers alike. 

Be sure to greet Dan at the Presbytery Gathering in August, and welcome him to the Presbytery of Cincinnati to make his beginning here, and the beginning of a new season for Covenant-First, warm and blessed!