Southport Presbyterian Church was organized May 20, 1898, by the Wilmington Presbytery with W.M. Shaw, the evangelist for the Brunswick Field, serving as pastor. Seven charter members of the congregation included Mrs. L.J. Pepper, Mrs. A.M. Vernon, and Price Furpless, who was elected Ruling Elder, an office he held until 1957.
In 1958 the church moved to its current location at the corner of Stuart and Moore Streets. In 1955 James and Margaret Harper donated this property and it has been the site of three church sanctuaries. The first was converted to the Education and Administration Building after the second sanctuary was constructed in 1975 and was used until our present sanctuary was completed and dedicated in 2006.
Throughout the years Southport Presbyterian has been blessed by having the leadership, dedication, and enthusiasm of more than 40 ministers. The early ministers were usually evangelist for the Brunswick County area. They used Southport as their headquarters and the manse was here in Southport. Some of the other churches throughout the area provided pastoral serves at various times including Phoenix in Bethberei which dissolved in 1929, Sweet Home in Shallotte which dissolved in 1942, the chapel at Orton Plantation, the camp pastor at Fort Caswell, and Oak Island summer beach services. Southport Presbyterian Church and New Hope Presbyterian Church in Winnabow were served by the same minister until 1976. In that year the Reverend Frank Elliott became Southport Presbyterian’s first full-time minister and since then the congregation has been served by a full-time minister.
At first worship services were usually held Sunday evening, with morning services added during some periods, and Wednesday evening. During one period the minister would preach at Southport on two Sundays and New Hope two Sundays each month. Then for some years the minister would preside over a 9:30 service at either Southport or New Hope and an 11:00 service at the other.
For the first 10 years Price Furpless served as the only Ruling Elder. In 1908 Thomas (Thompson) Williams joined him and later others were also elected. In 1912 the congregation made the decision to elect Deacons. The congregation was served by both Elders and Deacons until 1974 when the congregation voted to establish a unicameral form of church governance with the office of Deacon eliminated and the Elders assuming those duties. As part of this change, six Elders were elected with rotating terms. In 1978 the Session, the governing body of the church, was increased to nine Elders, each serving a 3-year term with the option of being elected to a second term. In 2006 the Session voted to limit sitting Elders to a single three-year term, with a minimum of one year off before being able to serve again. 2012 brought the return of Deacons to the governance of the church.
It wasn’t until the 1960’s that women were allowed to be ordained as ministers, Elders, or Deacons in the Presbyterian Church. In 1966 the first two female Deacons were elected at Southport Presbyterian Church and in 1972 the first three female Elders were elected. In 2003, the Reverend Mary Alice Haynie became the first female minister at SPC. She served in that position until 2008 when she retired and was succeeded by the Reverend Martha Jane Raedels, who served as Interim Pastor from 2008 to early 2010. In January of 2010, the Reverend Dr. Ann B. Jahnes became Pastor of SPC and she served as Pastor until her retirement in August 2021. Robb Lapp became the Interim Pastor in September 2021 and currently serves in that position while the church is in the process of searching for a new Pastor. In September 2019, Joanna Hipp, became our first Associate Pastor at Southport Presbyterian. Joanna’s responsibilities include providing support for website management, Zoom communication and virtual worship; guiding and supporting the faith development of children, youth and families with education, fellowship, and service; and connecting the congregation with the presbytery, denomination and ecumenical partners; provide both educational and practical ways of service.
The leadership and members of Southport Presbyterian have always been involved with the welfare of children. Christian education, youth activities, and outreach programs have all been important. From the beginning Sunday School has been active with many children, youth, and adults participating. In 1898 there were twenty students and four teachers in the Sabbath School. In 1930 with fifty-seven members there were two Sabbath Schools with two-hundred people from the community involved with the Sabbath School. In 1950 the house next door to the Caswell Avenue sanctuary was bought and used as a center for Sunday School classes, church meetings, church dinners, youth activities, and meetings by other groups. In that same year the members organized and sponsored the first Girl Scout troop in Brunswick County with twenty-eight girls participating. In 1954 the members began sponsoring a Cub Scout den and later a Boy Scout troop. Weekly social activities for all youth were a big draw for the young people in Southport. From 1970 through 1972, Southport Presbyterian was the location for Fort Johnston Academy, a private school for children in grades one through eight.
The leaders and members of Southport Presbyterian Church have long been dedicated and actively involved with our local and world-wide community using their time, talents, enthusiasm, and financial resources to help others. In the early years revival meetings were held on a periodic basis. In the 1930’s and later, missionaries serving in various parts of the world would come to Southport Presbyterian and speak of their activities and challenges. In 1916 a ministerial association, forerunner to the Southport Oak Island Interchurch Fellowship, was formed with Southport Presbyterian’s minister, W.M. Shaw, serving as chairman.
In 1979 Southport Presbyterian organized the first CROP Walk in the area with walkers meeting in Boiling Spring Lakes and soon this became an ecumenical project. By 1976 church members were participating in and leading worship services at Indian Trail Meeting Hall and also later Dosher Memorial Hospital, and later started weekly Bingo games at both locations.
The women of the church first organized in 1919 as the Ladies Home Society with fourteen members which grew to fifty-one the following year. In 1922 the group started the Birthday Offering which has been continuous ever since. Sometime before 1947 the name of the group changed to the Women’s Auxiliary, then in 1948 the group became the Women of the Church. In 1986 the name was once again changed to Presbyterian Women. Regardless of the name of the group, they have always been an active part of church life and provided support for local, regional, state, national, and world-wide causes, doing everything from rolling bandages to financial donations.
Starting by 1923, men’s groups have also been a vital part of the church and community. In 1997, the men’s group at SPC helped to renovate and support Dosher House, now called Providence Home, as a safe haven for teens.
In 1988 a Memorial Garden on the church grounds was dedicated. In 1990 it was noted that the garden was “beautifully landscaped and maintained with flowers, a cement bench, and low shade trees. The wooden markers are used for identification and a plaque has the names on it.” In 2007 the garden was rededicated after an expansion, renovation and the addition of a water feature.
In 1998, a time capsule to be opened in 2098 was created in conjunction with the 100th anniversary celebration of the church. Twenty-one items representing the church’s 100 years of were included in the time capsule. In 1999, the time capsule was buried in the Memorial Garden. Upon completion of our present sanctuary the time capsule was moved and reburied near the cornerstone of the church.
2015 marked the start of a capital campaign to construct a new Ministry Center. The new addition to the church includes a multitude of facilities to serve both the needs of the church as well as those of the neighborhood and the community. The addition includes a large Fellowship Hall with full kitchen facilities, a room for the choir, a nursery, meeting rooms and offices for the Pastor, Associate Pastor and Office Administrator. The Fellowship Hall, kitchen and meeting rooms are available for rent by groups outside of the church. The new Ministry Center was dedicated in 2019.
In 2021, the church embarked on a capital campaign entitled “Living the Vision”. Funds generated by this campaign are being utilized by the church to pay down the mortgage on the Ministry Center, for capital purchases such as the paving of the parking lot, a new sound system for the sanctuary and a video system that enables the church to send out the Sunday services so that anyone can worship with us both in the sanctuary, at home at any time or wherever a person has access to live video. These funds are split 70% for mortgage reduction, 20% for capital and 10% for mission.
Throughout its history the church has been blessed with gifted, faithful, enthusiastic members, lay and pastoral leadership, and friends of the church who with God’s help have strengthened the church’s witness and deepened its commitment to Christian discipleship.