First Presbyterian Church of Greeneville, founded in 1780, began as Mount Bethel Presbyterian Church and was located on the hill at the corner of College and Church streets, where Town Hall now stands. Rev. Samuel Doak gathered folks at the Big Spring for what was the beginning of Mt. Bethel Church. Rev. Hezekiah Balch was the first settled pastor with regular services beginning in 1783.
In the beginning, Doak and Balch supported each other in the growth of the church. But in 1798 the church became hopelessly divided over the Old Side/New Side Presbyterian split with Doak on the Old Side and Balch on the New Side. They remained rivals on how the early frontier Presbyterian Church should be operated. Rev. Balch, due to the rapidly expanding western frontier, adhered to the idea that revivals should be held on the frontier to bring in more converts to the fold. Setting aside some of the tenets of Calvinism, Balch advocated for the “New Side” philosophy and pushed hard for its acceptance.
Rev. Doak , on the other hand, adhered to the “Old Side” philosophy, adhering more strictly to Calvinism. Doak also felt that the heated emotional revivals were not in keeping with Calvinist theology. The division between the two ministers eventually led to a wide schism between them, the result of which was the division of the church. Greeneville now had two Presbyterian churches. Those who remained with Balch stayed at the original location and took the name, Harmony. The Old Side group kept the name, Mt. Bethel and moved to a new location, what is now the intersection of Tusculum Boulevard and Snapps Ferry Road. Two of Greeneville’s historic cemeteries are at the locations of the churches, Old Harmony behind Town Hall and Mt. Bethel Cemetery behind the convenience store at that intersection.
In 1840, the name of Harmony Church was changed to Greeneville Presbyterian Church, and in 1848 the present brick church on Main Street was erected. A three-story educational wing was added in 1926. A fire destroyed the interior of the sanctuary in 1928, leaving only the brick walls standing. With the leadership of the pastor, Dr. Jere Moore, and the sacrificial participation of many faithful members, it was immediately rebuilt. The name of the church changed to First Presbyterian Church in the 1940’s. Christ Chapel was built and dedicated in 1999. The Family and Nurture Center was built and dedicated in 2000.
The Mt. Bethel Church eventually moved to the campus of Tusculum College where, in time, a church redevelopment project reconstituted the congregation as Covenant Presbyterian Church. In 1990 First Presbyterian Church and Covenant Presbyterian Church were reunited healing a nearly 200 year rift.
Dr. Dan Donaldson has been pastor since 1998.