A little band of Christians met at the home of Eleazar Howard on October 15, 1828, to organize a “church”. The Howard House was the town tavern in Gates at the southeast corner of Buffalo and Howard Roads. The name that was chosen for the new organization was “The First Presbyterian Society of the Town of Gates”.
Services were held in the ballroom of the Howard House and Sunday School classes were conducted in a brick school house. On March 8, 1831 the trustees met with a commission from the Rochester Presbytery to consider organizing a church in Gates.
Some time passed and Mr. Howard donated a half acre of land on which the first church, a small frame building costing $400, was built. The first meeting was held in the new church in October 1840, twelve years after the society was organized.
Within 5 years they needed a larger building, so they sold the original and it was moved away to be used as a dwelling. The second church, built on the old site, cost $1,000 was dedicated on January 23, 1845. Sheds to shelter the horses and carriages were built in 1854. The Rev. James Ballantine became the first regular minister “at a salary of $350 the first year and $400 each year thereafter for as long as he remained.” He was installed by a committee of Presbytery on September 23, 1845 and served for 16 years.
An entry in church records on September 14, 1862 reads, “Our young men’s Bible class appears to be broken up, most of them having joined the army.” Few men were left in the church during the Civil War period, most having gone to war. On the occasion of the Centennial of American Independence, the pastor Rev. H. Wickes delivered a sermon on July 2, 1876 in which he stated, “On the great moral question of the day, the church has been right. Her numbers strongly advocated the great anti-slavery movement which culminated in the overthrow of the system.”
By 1871 the church was badly in need of repair, and renovations done at that time served well until the building was destroyed by fire in January 1906, just 9 months after they had secured the first insurance policy. Services were held in the nearby Union Hall until the third church was dedicated on May 12, 1908.
You may notice that the plague in the narthex gives dates for the buildings from 1833-1908 that are not completely consistent with the church documents we have drawn information from. History is complex!
By 1950, church school enrollment had so increased that the classes could no longer be accommodated in the basement; so 7/8 of an acre of land adjoining the church was purchased and a new education wing was dedicated on November 28, 1954.
By the mid ’60’s the congregation had grown to the point that even two Sunday morning worship services were not enough to accommodate everyone. So a larger parcel of land was purchased on Wegman Road and ground was broken for the fourth edifice of Gates Presbyterian Church on June 23, 1968. The first service was held in the present building on November 16, 1969.
There are many features of the current GPC building that speak of who we are.
The bricks that make up the exterior walls as well as the walls of the sanctuary are called “clinker” bricks. These are basically the bricks that were normally rejected by masons because they were imperfect or defective. These “clinker” bricks represent not only that we as Christians are all unique, as no two bricks are the same, but also that God, as well as the church, accepts and loves us with all our imperfections.
One of the focal points in the sanctuary is the communion table, which is located in the center. This reminds us that we gather as a community around the Lord’s table to break bread and drink from the cup in memory of the one who died for our sins, Jesus Christ.
The other focal point in the sanctuary is the pulpit where God’s word is heard. The pulpit itself is simple and only slightly elevated to show that those who read and preach from this pulpit are not special or “above” the congregation in stature, but are in fact ordinary people. Also, clergy are not seated behind the pulpit for all to see, but they sit in the pews among the congregation suggesting that the congregation, and not just the clergy, ministers to each other.
Just as the clergy are located among the congregation, so too are the choir and organ. This suggests that the choir and music ministry, important parts in leading worship, are not only equally as important as all the other pieces of worship, but are also part of the congregation.
To further illustrate how the congregation ministers to each other, the pews are situated in the round so the congregation can see one another during worship. This configuration also suggests that the congregation is a family seated around the Lord’s table, much as any family might share their experiences around the dinner table.
Under the original building design, the cross extended from the sky light located above the communion table to represent how Christ is at the center of our lives and that our Christianity begins in the sanctuary and extends into the world beyond. Years later, the cross was mounted to the front of the building as a result of structural concerns. The cross still shines as a sign of our Christianity in the surrounding community.
Upon entering the church at the door nearest to the sanctuary, visitors are greeted by two stained glass windows from the previous church building. These windows provide a strong link to the past and represent where we came from as a congregation.
Also located in the entrance near the sanctuary is a peace pole. This represents the ongoing goal of the congregation to be an advocate for world peace.