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Southfield Reformed Presbyterian Church History

The first known organized congregation of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America (known as the Covenanter’s) was that of Middle Octorara, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 1738. In Scotland (where the denomination originated), Reformed Presbyterians had been a separate denomination since the late 1600s.   The Reformed Presbytery of the United States of North American was constituted in its current form in 1798, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

By 1834 there were a sufficient number of Covenanters in Southfield to organize a church. Previous to this, the people had gathered together in a prayer society organized by an early landowner, David Stewart, who came to Southfield in the fall of 1831 from White Lake, Orange County, NY.  David Stewart worked tirelessly to form a church and, through his influence, other Covenanters such as the McClellands, Browns, McKinneys, Lowes, McClungs, Erwins, and Harmons came from New York to settle in Southfield.  In the early years before the church was established the prayer society met for services in barns and vacant log homes belonging to society members such as John Parks and Anthony McClung.

In 1838, a building in which to worship was constructed on an acre of land donated by John Parks at a site on Evergreen Road, just south of Eleven Mile.  In 1861, with the need for a larger and more permanent worship facility, the current church building was constructed.   In the 1950s a basement was dug and the building was moved back from Evergreen Road onto its new foundation. The congregation continues to worship in this historic structure today.  A parsonage was built north of the cemetery in the late 1940s.

In the years leading up to the Civil War, religious and secular leaders increasingly questioned the institution of slavery.  One of the earliest religious organizations that took a direct and firm anti-slavery position on the matter of slavery was the Reformed Presbyterian Church. The Church, without exception, was unified on its disposition regarding slavery, and believed all men were created equal in the eyes of God. By the early 1800s, the Covenanters required all members of the church to free their enslaved African Americans.

During this critical period leading up to the Civil War (1853 to 1871) the Rev. J. S. T. Milligan served as the pastor of the Southfield Reformed Presbyterian Church.  J.S.T. Milligan was the son of The Rev. James Milligan, D.D. of Vermont who was described as a radical abolitionist.  The Milligan family, along with members of the church in Ryegate, Vermont, helped to create the Church’s foundation to help support the anti-slavery and Underground Railroad movements. Clergy and members of the Church became members of anti-slavery societies, UGRR agents, conductors, and station operators. They sheltered and escorted fugitives to freedom from various locations in America to Canada. The Rev. J.S.T. Milligan and probably other members of the Southfield Reformed Presbyterian Church were active participants in the Underground Railroad network in Michigan.

2009 marked the 175th year of the Southfield Reformed Presbyterian Church as an organized congregation.

Resource List:

  • “A Brief History of Southfield Reformed Presbyterian Church.” Southfield Reformed Presbyterian Church.  Southfield Reformed Presbyterian Church, 2007-2011. Web. 11 April 2011. <www.reformed.com/history.php>.
  • Edgar, John O. Southfield Reformed Presbyterian Church from 1834-1973. Paper presented at the annual Congregational meeting, Jan. 1972. <www.reformed.com/history(edgar).php>.
  • Danquah, Rochelle. “The Spirit of Abolition in Southfield.” Michigan Remembers the Civil War 1861-1865 Lecture Series. Southfield Public Library. Southfield Public Library, Southfield, MI. 14/04/2011. Lecture. 
  • Glasgow, W. Melancthon. History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America: with sketches of all her ministry, congregations, missions, institutions, publications, etc., and embellished with over fifty portraits and engravings. Baltimore, MD: Hill & Harvey, c1888. <http://reformedpresbyterian.org/download/history.pdf>.
  • Thompson, Mary. “The Covenanter Church of Southfield and Its Early History related by Miss Mary E Thompson.” Birmingham Eccentric. Feb. [nd], 1915. [np] <www.reformed.com/history(thompson).php>.
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