Church regularly opens doors to many local groups

A presence in Alpena since 1884, the First Presbyterian Church at 1600 W. Chisholm quietly goes about the business of serving others. For 16 non-profit or civic groups in the area, that means the church regularly opens its doors for usage.

From HeART and Soul, an art therapy program for those with chronic illnesses, to the Exceptional Friends, who use the social hall for activities, the church is put to good use on a regular basis.

Like many long-standing churches in the area, First Presbyterian started out at a different location. In 1958, a move was made to its present home on land given by the late Jesse Besser, who also donated generously to the construction of the church’s educational center. He also assumed the total cost of a new sanctuary in 1963. Both were gifts in memory of his parents, who had been members of the church.

“Out of gratitude for Mr. Besser’s generosity, the congregation has responded by making portions of the building available to a variety of civic organizations,” said Anna Wright, wife of Pastor Emeritus Sanford Wright.

The congregation itself also is committed to service. Long-time members Dorothy “Dot” Allison and Bert McDonald, both of Alpena, estimate the church has been doing a “Mitten Tree” for the Salvation Army for about the last 40 years. Church attendees cover the tree with new mittens, hats and scarves to be given out at Christmas time by the Salvation Army to needy families in the area.

Early last week, the tree appeared full, but both women said the collection process wasn’t completed yet.

“The tree is not done yet. It will be over-flowing by the end,” Allison said.

Along with the tree, at Christmas time the church hands out brown paper bags with the message, ” I was hungry – and you gave me something to eat” on it. Members are encouraged to take a bag home and return it filled with non-perishable food items. to again be given to the needy.

The congregation responds generously, Allison and McDonald said, by filling between 50 to 75 bags for local charity each year.

Among the groups that use the church facility on regular basis, Habitat for Humanity has the longest history there. Its offices have been headquartered at the church since the organization first was founded in Alpena.

NEMROC (Northeast Michigan Rehabilitation and Opportunity Center) also got its start at the church, said Wright. She said clients of NEMROC still have a presence at the church today.

The newest organization to come on board is Partners in Prevention, a non-profit group that leads workshops and training in effective parenting skills. The space for Partners in Prevention became available at First Presbyterian with the recent closing of the Alpena Free Clinic, which had been started and operated by the church’s most recent pastor, Rev. Steve Hammond, now retired.

Executive Director Carlene Przykucki said moving into the space allowed her agency to reduce some overhead costs as well as be in a location easily accessible for meetings and training sessions.

“Everybody has been so welcoming,” Przykucki said of her new offices. “People from the church have been stopping in to say ‘hi.’ They seem very pleased to have the church used in the mission of service.”

While the church remains committed to allowing groups to make use of the facilities, Wright said it currently is at capacity with no room left for any new organizations.

“We are maxed out as far as the number,” she said.

First Presbyterian Church was established in Alpena in 1884 with 40 charter members, all of Scottish descent. According to a history of the church compiled by the late Stanley C. Beck, the church’s first building was a wooden edifice that initially served the Episcopal Church. That structure was moved to a lot on Washington Avenue near Third Street.

The final service at the Washington Avenue building was held in 1958 after the construction of the church’s educational building erected at the current location. The congregation met for services in the educational building until the current-day sanctuary was added in 1963.

Rev. Robert Case currently serves as interim pastor at First Presbyterian, while a search is under way for a new regular pastor.