Presbyterians in Sparta

There are four Presbyterian Churches in Sparta representing three different denominations. Trinity Presbyterian Church and Westminster Presbyterian Church are both PCUSA (Presbyterian Church United States of America). Bethel Reformed Presbyterian Church is PCA (Presbyterian Church of America). Sparta Reformed Presbyterian Church is RPCNA (Reformed Presbyterian Church North America).

Trinity Presbyterian Church was the First United Presbyterian Church, and Westminster Presbyterian Church was the First Presbyterian Church of the United States of America until both denominations merged in 1957 to become PCUSA. Both churches then changed their names to avoid having two Sparta churches with the same name.

Westminster shares a rich history with both Reformed Presbyterian Churches in Sparta. That history began in Eden, Illinois, east of Sparta.

Three of the four Presbyterian churches in Sparta sprang from the Bethel Reformed Presbyterian Church founded in Eden about 1821. Rev. Sam Wylie was their first pastor.

Differing opinions over psalmody (the singing of Psalms in worship) and communion had prompted the Eden congregation to split into two congregations, one calling themselves New Bethel and the other, Old Bethel.

The New Bethel congregation later became known as the Reformed Covenanters, now known as the Sparta Reformed Presbyterian Church. The Old Bethel congregation later became known as Bethel Reformed Presbyterian Church of Sparta.

Because of the continuing conflicts, the Scottish element of Bethel withdrew and formed a new church. The First Presbyterian Church, as Westminster was first known, was organized in June 1869. They built this building for a cost of $9,000 that same year.

Connection to Scotland

Emigrants from Scotland settled in the Carolinas in the 1700s. Opposing the slavery practices they found in the Carolinas, many Scottish Presbyterians of the Abbeville District of South Carolina moved westward, some of them settling in Eden, Illinois, east of Sparta, where they established the original Bethel Reformed Presbyterian Church. Many of the families continued their anti-slavery movement by participating in the Underground Railroad.

In addition to the settlements in Eden, the Scots settled the area surrounding Sparta, Tilden, Coulterville and Oakdale.


Progressive Milestones

In 1895, three ladies were elected (by the women) to serve as “auxiliary members of the trustees.” Mrs. James Hood, Mrs. R. H. Rosborough, and Mrs. J. A. Holloway held these positions, but no further record was made of the work they did.

In 1955, the Session approved the election of women as elders. Dorothy Moffat and Alma Secor were installed as the first women elders on January 12, 1960. By 1969, three other women had served as elders, Marie Maybell, Lillie Grigg, and Thelma Douglas. Westminster has always been at the forefront in providing leadership roles within the congregation.

Excerpted from book by author, Carol Pirtle