Birth of Second Church
By 1882, Little Rock had grown to be a small city of 28,000 people. In that year it was decided that Presbyterianism needed to expand. Because of transportation problems in the days before automobiles, a Presbyterian mission was projected on the western edge of the city at the corner of 4th & State Streets. As this new effort proceeded, the members of the mission decided, with the blessings of First Church, to become a separate church rather than a mission. So Second Presbyterian Church was born April 18, 1882, with 14 charter members. The property and uncompleted building were turned over to the congregation, and as a further gesture of good will, the wife of the pastor of First Church gave to the new church its first manse at 519 West 4th Street. This church extension effort set a good pattern for Little Rock Presbyterians, an example which Second Church itself would follow in five years to come.
During its first 28 years, Second Church was served by five pastors and its enrollment grew from 14 to 270 members.
The Growing Years
The character of Second church was shaped and strengthened during the next 52 years under the outstanding ministries of Dr. Hay Watson Smith (29 years) and Dr. Marion A. Boggs (23 years). Dr. Smith was a profound scholar and fearless preacher who clearly stated to the Presbytery of Arkansas in 1911 his divergences from the doctrines of the Westminster Confession of Faith on such matters as the infallibility of the scriptures, the method of Creation and total depravity. His liberal views on evolution later brought him into conflict with extreme fundamentalists of the denomination and he was charged with heresy by the Presbytery of Augusta. Before the General Assembly, Dr. Smith was successfully defended by a young minister from Arkansas named Marion A. Boggs, who succeeded in having the charges dismissed on a technicality. The congregation of Second Church warmly and overwhelmingly supported Dr. Smith and prospered under his leadership.
A new church building was erected at 3rd and Gaines Streets at a cost of $250,000 and the church membership had reached a total of 955 by the time of Dr. Smith’s retirement in October 1939. Soon after Dr. Boggs succeeded Dr. Smith, the membership grew to 1,107, the first Presbyterian church in the state to exceed 1,000 members.
Following World War II, in recognition of the urgent need for Presbyterian outreach in the rapidly growing residential section of western Little Rock, Second Church purchased property and erected a chapel in Westover Hills and provided a nucleus of about 30 members to organize Westover Hills Presbyterian Church in 1948. Through its budget, Second Church continued to contribute to Westover Hills for several years until it became self-sustaining. Second Church took the leadership in enlisting support of other Presbyterian Churches in Little Rock toward establishing additional churches in the western part of the city. St. Andrews Presbyterian Church was established in 1956 on West 32nd Street on a site donated by Frank Lyon, an elder in Second Church, and Grace Presbyterian Church on Rodney Parham Road was established in 1961. Second Church continued to support both these new churches financially until they became self-sustaining. More recently has been the support given to Trinity Presbyterian Church, Organized November 1, 1987, and in its second location, now on Rahling Road.
By the early 50′s a majority of the members of Second Church had followed the population trend and were living in the western part of Little Rock. In 1952, the Session appointed a long-range planning committee to study and chart the future mission of Second Church, particularly with reference to whether the church would remain at its downtown location and direct its mission to that of a central city urban church, or whether it would move to the western part of the city and structure its mission around that of a residential family church. The planners realized that a decision to move the church, if made, would be at least 10 years in the future. In the meantime, the church was bursting at its seams. So in 1953-54 a major reconditioning and expansion was carried out at 3rd & Gaines as an interim step to provide sorely needed facilities.
In 1957, when Little Rock became the nation’s battleground for public school desegregation, Dr. Boggs, strongly supported by the Session of Second Church, was one of the few ministers who publicly advocated integrated public schools in keeping with the U.S. Supreme Court decision. Despite vulgar, anonymous phone calls and bomb threats, Second Church continued to hold periodic integrated church services and fellowship meals with black Allison Memorial Presbyterian Church. Dr. Boggs’ courage in that situation contributed to his election as Moderator of the General Assembly of the PCUS in 1960. By the time of Dr. Boggs’ retirement in 1962, Second Church had 1,071 members and had long been the largest Presbyterian church in the state.
In Western Little Rock
The decision to move to the western part of Little Rock was reached in 1965 while the Reverend William Fogleman was pastor. A site was selected and a capital funds campaign was conducted in 1967 resulting in pledges of $800,000. The church also contracted to sell its property at 3rd & Gaines to the U.S. Government for about $400,000.
The last service at 3rd & Gaines was December 17, 1968, after which the pews and stained glass windows were moved to the new building on Pleasant Valley Drive. The new pastor, F. Wellford Hobbie, conducted Sunday worship services for the interim at the B’Nai Israel Temple at 5th & Broadway. (The church was later able to repay this gesture of friendship by offering its chapel to the congregation of B’Nai Israel for Friday worship services from June 1971, until January 1975 while their new Temple was being built.) The first worship service in the new sanctuary was held on February 9, 1969. The ten acres and church building on Pleasant Valley Drive and a new manse in Foxcroft cost $1,200,000.
Growth of the congregation and of the area led the people to add an educational building containing a dozen classrooms and a multi-purpose Great Hall at a cost of $2,300,000. The new Facility was dedicated March 6, 1988.
Women were first elected to the Session and Diaconate of the Church in 1969, and the Presbytery of Arkansas, greatly influenced by Second Church, became a union presbytery of both the southern (PCUS) and northern (UPUSA) Presbyterian churches in 1974. Wellford Hobbie was succeeded in December 1975 by J. Allen Smith. Following the death of Allen Smith in 1993, shortly before he was to retire, William C. (Bill) Poe served as pastor from 1994-1999.
Drs. Hay Watson Smith, Marion A. Boggs, William Fogleman, F. Wellford Hobbie, J. Allen Smith, and Bill Poe were all outstanding pulpiteers, compassionate pastors and understanding counselors. They were ably assisted by associate pastors Jac. C. Ruffin, A.M. Hart, Guy Delaney, Jim Bullock, Park Moore and Charles Bruner. Second Church has been blessed throughout its history by outstanding ministers and the present pastoral staff, Pastor Steve Hancock, Associate Pastors Karen K. Akin and Camille LeBron Powell live up to that tradition.
But the strength of a church lies ultimately in its members. The congregation of Second Church, over the past 100 years, has included an unusually large number of lay men and women who have not only served the denomination with distinction, at the local church, Presbytery, Synod and General Assembly levels, but who have also been outstanding leaders in the civic, charitable and business organizations of the community.
Second Church through the years has been known for its progressive positions in theology, church policy and social action. Avoiding the extremes of right of left, it has been a unified church, free of serious internal schisms and dissentions. As a result, it has been a more effective church in its mission both to its members and to the world outside its walls.