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History of Old First

1999 marked our official Sesquicentennial, celebrating 150 years as a congregation. Founded on May 20, 1849, in the first months of the Gold Rush, Old First is California's oldest active Protestant congregation.

In its early years, the church established California's first orphanage and the YMCA; later Old First leaders were instrumental in forming the San Francisco Theological Seminary and the University of California at Berkeley. An early ministry with Chinese laborers led to the founding of a Chinese congregation, which survives today as the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown - one of several churches Old First helped found to serve the needs of the growing city.

The present church, the congregation's sixth building, was built in 1911 after the previous church was dynamited to help stop the fires that followed the 1906 earthquake. Old First has always been engaged in social issues.

Our pastor in 1861 persuaded the national Presbyterian Church to stand with President Lincoln against slavery. During World War II, our ministers and elders protested the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent. In the 1970s we helped create the Larkin Street Youth Center to serve runaway teens. Currently we are working with others to establish services for our homeless neighbors. 

Another significant dialog involves the ordination of gay and lesbian people in the Presbyterian Church.

Find out more about Old First's history by ordering the award-winning book, Pioneer Community of Faith - Old First Presbyterian Church 1849-1999 by Stephen Taber.  Now available via the church office.