A commitment to mission most strongly characterizes the history of Third Church, from its inception in 1834 through times of challenge and change to the current day. During times of growth and decline alike, God has used this church to accomplish His gospel mission.
Begun as a mission to dockworkers and seafarers along the James River at Rocketts, the church first worshipped and grew in the East End of the city. Enrolled as Third Presbyterian Church of Richmond with a membership of sixteen in 1835, the church was popularly known as Bethel Church in those days. Both rich and poor gathered for worship, first along the wharfs, and then in a tobacco factory, and by 1850 in a new brick building in the heart of Church Hill.
The Civil War threatened the survival of the church. The church space was used for hospital care, and the women assumed increasing responsibility as they knitted, sewed, nursed and prayed. Out of this group emerged, after the war, the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society. Membership, finances, and safety were all weakened during the war and post-war years, but God renewed the church by 1900 and began to grow it. A historian recorded that “contributions to all causes steadily increased, especially to foreign missions.” By 1910, membership was at 607.
Changing demographics in the East End, as well as the two world wars, challenged Third Presbyterian Church in the following decades. Although the church continued to worship, give, invest and serve in remarkable ways, it lost many members both to the wars and to the mass exodus from the neighborhood. Finally, in 1956, the congregation voted to sell its property in Church Hill and relocate to Forest Avenue in the West End of Richmond.
Facility-building years in the county continued to be marked by service and mission, and the membership again grew. With an enduring commitment to foreign and local missions, the congregation called pastors in ensuing decades who helped to lead the church into greater support of, as well as participation in, mission. Members themselves, discipled deeply at Third,continued to found and lead a variety of missional outreaches in the city and throughout the world.
Under gifted pastoral leadership, the church has seen significant growth in members and in mission since 1978. Short term mission trips became a regular occurrence. A commitment to mission giving at a rate of 30% of budget began. Many of Third’s Associate Pastors left to help start new congregations around the city. Many of Third’s members began creative new ministry initiatives in Richmond while several of its own members left the area to become missionaries around the world.
In 2013, Third joined the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, a denomination committed to mission and church planting. We thank God that he has developed at Third at catalytic culture to create and shape ministries for mission and pray this may be advanced in years to come in the neighborhoods around the city. Currently Third has grown to 1375 covenant partners generously contributing over 1 million each year to the Lord’s mission through commitments to over 80 mission partners in Richmond and around the world.
Churches Launched and Nurtured
- Montrose Presbyterian Church: 1910
- Christ Church: 1980
- Hope Church
- Swift Creek Presbyterian
- Eternity Church: 2003
- East End Fellowship: 2005
- Community West Church: 2009
Community Ministries Developed
by Third members
- Strategies to Elevate People (STEP): 1980
- Needles Eye: 1980
- Cross Over Health Clinics: 1983
- Churchill Activities and Tutoring (CHAT): 2001
- Church Hill Academy: 2008
- Urban Hope: 2005
- Blue Sky: 2005
- Richmond Christian Leadership Institute (RCLI): 2007