The church that would become Central Presbyterian Church began as a “church plant” that met in a schoolroom on Mulberry Street in March of 1820, which the 22-year-old founding pastor, William Patton, rented at his own expense.Patton graduated from Middlebury College in 1818 and studied at the newly-formed Princeton Theological Seminary under the tutelage of Archibald Alexander and Samuel Miller along with fellow classmate Charles Hodge before moving to New York City. Within a year of Patton's arrival in New York, a new Presbyterian church was ready to be born as a result of the young pastor’s enterprising efforts. On Monday, January 8, 1821, Patton and his wife, Mary, invited four other people to their home on Elm Street (now called Lafayette Street) and founded Central Presbyterian Church after praying together. Central was subsequently incorporated as a New York religious corporation on February 6, 1821.
From such an inauspicious beginning, Central quickly became influential in New York City and around the globe. William Patton, for example, played an instrumental role in the founding of Union Theological Seminary (1836). He was also the first to propose the establishment of a World Evangelical Alliance and attended the convention in London in 1846 that organized this fellowship. In addition to editing Jonathan Edwards's writings on "Revivals,” Patton published several other works throughout his life. He was an earnest opponent of slavery and was a member of the executive committee of the American Home Missionary Society for forty years. Central’s commitment to missions continued well into the future as Central began sending teams of people to start churches, schools, and hospitals in Appalachia as well as inland China in the late 1890s.
Over the course of its first 100 years, Central moved locations several times in response to rapid demographic changes in the city. Central’s current building, located at the corner of 64th Street and Park Avenue, was constructed in 1922 as the home for Park Avenue Baptist Church with funding provided by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Park Avenue Baptist called Harry Emerson Fosdick to serve as its pastor in 1925 after Fosdick left the church he was serving due to a controversy sparked by his theological views.
At Park Avenue Baptist, Fosdick drew such large crowds that Rockefeller soon decided to build Riverside Church in Morningside Heights for the Baptist congregation, providing Central with the opportunity in 1926 to agree to purchase the nearly new Park Avenue church building. Central, however, could not take occupancy of the building until Riverside was completed. In the interim, Central met at the Plaza Hotel and, after closing on the purchase, held its first service in its new home at 593 Park Avenue on Sunday, September 22, 1929, shortly before the October 1929 stock market crash.
Despite its storied past, Central experienced a period of substantial decline during the second half of the twentieth century, but, by God's grace, the church has entered a period of dynamic renewal. Beginning in 2006, a group of committed Christians from around the city began attending Central in an attempt to turn around the failing church. Remarkably, this small group made considerable progress in their renewal efforts leading us to where we are today.
The church has re-centered its focus on the historic gospel, emphasizing strong biblical teaching, robust Christian community, and inspiring Spirit-filled worship. During this time of renewal, our church family has grown into a culturally diverse and multi-generational body that now includes established professionals who are leaders in their fields, many growing families, and a dynamic group of students and young artists and professionals at the beginning of their careers.
Central is a member of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). We are deeply rooted in the historic Christian faith, yet we approach the future with excitement and great anticipation of all that God will do in and through our church, convinced that Central’s best days lie ahead of us. We welcome you to become part of our story!