How York’s Faith Presbyterian and First Presbyterian merged

Faith Presbyterian/

First Presbyterian

50-52 N. Duke St., York/225 E. Market St., York

The situation

Twenty-seven-year-old Douglas Parks was 10 months into his call as minister of York’s Faith Presbyterian Church when the phone rang.

The man on the other end of the line on that day in February 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., asked the Rev. Parks if he could help with a major voter registration drive in Selma, Alabama. Parks, clergy coordinator in Pennsylvania for King’s organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, asked Faith Church’s elders for a leave.

They granted their pastor, then 10 months at the helm of the North Duke Street Church, the time away, and Parks drove down.

There he roomed with comedian/activist Dick Gregory and became involved with the voter registration effort led by John Lewis.

He and others would drive those seeking to register to vote to the courthouse. The registrar’s office had set hours, but to discourage signups limited hours to one a day. To gain registration, the office required an exam and payment of a poll tax.

Parks struck up a friendship with John Lewis and sat in on a strategy session with King about a planned march on Montgomery.

Most importantly, he marched over the Edmund Pettus Bridge with Lewis, an event in which police turned on the marchers,  “Bloody Sunday.” He was there for the subsequent King-led march over the bridge and then the march to Montgomery.

Parks, now retired from the ministry and living in California, wrote this account at the time of Lewis’ death last summer.

He returned to York to work on a mission of his own.

Congregants worship in 2015 on the 50th anniversary of the merger of Faith Presbyterian and First Presbyterian churches in York.

The witness

Faith Church’s congregation – founded in 1894, and reduced in numbers over the years – could no longer support the church.

In Alabama, Parks had talked with King about Faith, and King encouraged him to seek a merger with another congregation.

“That whole experience (marching with King) though energized me. Returning to York, I worked on the merger with renewed faith and fervor,” Parks later wrote.

Parks led Faith while seeking other Presbyterian churches in the area that would merge.

“First Presbyterian was the one,” a York Daily Record story reported in 2015.

The churches, one predominantly Black and the other mostly white, worshiped together as a new congregation for the first time in a candlelight service on Christmas Eve in 1965.

Parks assisted in the service.

He then left York to begin teaching in Zambia as a “frontier intern,” a newspaper reported at the time.

His new role would be to teach in that African country.

In 2015, First Presbyterian celebrated the 50th anniversary of the merger – an event urged by Dr. Martin Luther King and overseen by the Rev. Doug Parks.

The combination served as a bright spot in a difficult decade in York, a historical moment that must be counted among the county’s profiles in courage.

The Question

Working alongside King energized Parks. King’s charisma and strong leadership inspired Parks to solve problems here in York. How important is it to visit other places and people so we can renew our own personal missions at home? Who can you go to as a mentor to reinvigorate your sense of purpose? 

Related links and sources: York Daily Record files; James McClure’s “Almost Forgotten.” Photos, York Daily Record


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