OUR CHURCH HISTORY
WOODLAWN PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (U.S.A.)
In celebration, we reflect on the past and with prayers on our lips we look to the future with great anticipation that the same God who has guided us in the past will continue to guide us in the future. The faith of our founders who first met in the home of Elder John W. Onley and his wife, Mary J. R. Onley, February 10, 1870 was based on their prayers and hopes for the future. Thanks be to God for their faith and for the faith that has been kept alive for more than 145 years. It was surely a faith that wherever two or three are gathered in the name of the Lord that the Lord would surely be in the midst. Hundreds have followed in this way of faith and service.
As we celebrate this wonderful past and prayerfully look to the future, may our faith be strong and our love for God be shown in our love for each other and in our service in the community.
The history of Woodlawn Presbyterian Church dates back to long before the formal organization of the Third Presbyterian Church. For many blacks had been exposed to the worship services, doctrines and activities of Presbyterianism through their association and membership in First Presbyterian Church located at Ocean and Monroe Streets.
In 1870 five years after the civil war the only African American Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville was organized under the leadership of John E. Onley. This is when a small group of saints met in the home of John E. Onley located at the corner of Julia and North Streets to consider organizing a Presbyterian Church with black leadership. There was unity of spirit and purpose shown for their central idea was absolute sovereignty in God and their supreme beliefs were in the Holy Bible.
On Friday, February 11, 1870, the committee met to mature the best plan to keep up worship services. On February 12, 1870, the Rev. J. W.C. Pennington met with the committee in the office of Dr. Mitchell, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Jacksonville. Sunday, February 27, 1870, Rev. Pennington preached the first sermon. This marked the first worship service of the first organized Third Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, Florida. In August 1875, the name of the church was changed to Laura Street Presbyterian Church located at Laura and State Streets in downtown Jacksonville.
The phenomenal growth of the church and the expansion of downtown Jacksonville was so great that during the pastorate of the Rev. Wilbert B. Miller, the decision was made by the congregation to relocate.
During Rev. Franklin D. Wilson's pastorate (1961-1977), the church was relocated to its present site. On December 31, 1961, Laura Street was officially named Woodlawn Presbyterian Church.
During the pastorate of the Rev. Robert N. Burkins (1978-1987), the present sanctuary was constructed and dedicated on November 15, 1981.
In June 1988, Rev. J.W. Rigsby became the 25th pastor and under his dynamic leadership the fellowship hall was remodeled to provide adequate facilities for our Sunday School and Music departments. A multi-purpose Family Life Center was constructed. This magnificent building was dedicated on September 13, 2003. On this same date, Rev. Rigsby celebrated fifteen years of dedicated service to Woodlawn Presbyterian Church.
With God's grace and mercy, Woodlawn will continue to be a beacon of hope in the Jacksonville community.