The history of Burbank Presbyterian Church begins with that of the City of Burbank during the 1880s when thousands of Americans came west.
The Presbytery of Los Angeles appointed Rev. F.D. Seward, Rev. A.R. Bickenback, and Elder E.T. Byrum of the Glendale Church to organize a Presbyterian church in Burbank. They met in Scammon’s Hall on October 23, 1887.
Twelve persons were received into membership and Capt. Alexander Parsons was elected the first Ruling Elder of the congregation, after which the First Presbyterian Church of Burbank was pronounced duly organized.
The first church building was constructed in 1888 at 5th & Palm and was used until 1891 when it was leveled by a windstorm. The second building was built in 1894 at Third & Angeleno using volunteer labor of the 25 members, thus beginning a tradition that lasted well into the future. That building was destroyed by fire in 1915. A new building was constructed at 5th & Olive, which remains the present location.
As Burbank grew, so did the church. The coming of Rev. Thomas E. Stevenson as pastor in 1920 marked a new era. The congregation recognized the importance of youth activities in the church. Some of our older members today were led as young people to commit their lives to Christ by the ministry of Mr. Stevenson, better known as “Parson Tom”.
During World War II the pastor, Rev. Rex E. Lawhead, served as a chaplain; therefore, Rev. Frederic G. Appleton, a missionary from the Philippines, served as interim minister. Fred served again as interim in 1977 and remained on staff as a pastor of visitation for many years.
Once again growth marked the years following the war. In 1948, the congregation of 550 members embarked on a building program that resulted in the present church facilities.
Westminster Hall and Fellowship Hall were constructed with 35,000 hours of volunteer labor.
Fellowship Hall served as a place of worship until the present sanctuary was built in 1956. These were the years of Dr. Chester M. Buley who served as pastor from 1948-1958. He was a man of uncanny foresight blessed with the ability to work with people and to enable them to reach toward the future. Dr. Buley used his administrative skills in taking the congregation through a complete building program and reaching a peak membership of 1,200 congregants.
In the meantime, two other Presbyterian churches were established in Burbank. On March 30, 1947, Westminster Presbyterian Church was incorporated with 62 members. Westminster was from the same denomination as First Presbyterian, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. The other church, Bethany United Presbyterian Church, was part of the United Presbyterian Church of North America and was organized on January 17, 1950 with 76 founding members.
Rev. Jay M. Campbell, who had been assigned by the Board of Home Missions to organize a new mission church in Burbank in 1947, was Bethany’s first pastor. They dedicated the sanctuary and two-story educational building in 1949. In 1952, a fellowship hall, named Harrison Hall, was added to the structure. By 1956, a new Christian Education building with administrative offices was completed.
In 1958, the two major Presbyterian denominations—Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and United Presbyterian Church in North America—joined together to become the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. so that all three Presbyterian churches in Burbank were in the same denomination.
Bethany United Presbyterian Church prospered and grew in membership, reaching a high of 529 members in 1962, under the leadership of Rev. Campbell who served the church from the beginning until 1963. Other pastors who were called to serve Bethany included Dr. Wilbur Franklin, 1964-1970; Rev. Reuben Batoon, 1971-1974; Rev. Jud Wiley, 1976-1983; Rev. David Carlson, 1986-1990; and Rev. Dr. Kim Strutt, 1991-2003.
In 1983, the three Presbyterian churches in Burbank again found themselves in a new denomination. The Presbyterian Church (USA) was formed by the joining of the United Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and the “southern” church, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.
In the 1960s and 1970s, under the pastoral leadership of Rev. Edward R. Danks, the congregation of First Presbyterian Church of Burbank deepened its commitment to the community and the world by emphasizing the ministry of each member. Under Pastor Danks, who served this church for nearly 14 years, a strong lay leadership developed throughout the congregation.
In 1977, Rev. William H. Craig was called to be Senior Pastor. Under Dr. Craig’s leadership, the sanctuary was renovated during the 95th anniversary in 1982. The ministry of “Pastor Bill” and his wife, Polly, can be characterized by love — the love of Christ that finds its expression in the life and programs of the church. “To Know Christ and To Make Him Known” became a motto expressing the emphasis on personal growth in faith, our witness to the world, and our growing understanding of what it means to be part of the family of God. Pastor Craig retired in 1998 after 20 years of service and is now Pastor Emeritus.
In 1999, the three Presbyterian churches in Burbank joined with an Hispanic congregation in Glendale, Iglesia de la Comunidad, under the auspices of San Fernando Presbytery, to discuss possible joint ministries in the Burbank area. Representatives from the churches met together for over two years, becoming acquainted with each other and sharing hopes for the future. As a result of these meetings, Bethany and First Presbyterian began discussing the possibility of merging as one church. Bethany’s membership had dropped to about 85 by 2001. On October 27, 2002, both congregations approved the merger and retained the name First Presbyterian Church of Burbank.
In March 2001, the congregation called Rev. Ross A. Purdy as Pastor. A gifted preacher, teacher and administrator, Pastor Ross continually reaches out to members of the congregation as well as to the community of Burbank. Under his leadership we look forward to the future our God has in store for us.
The Bethany Presbyterian Church property has been sold to Calvary Chapel Burbank. A portion of the proceeds of that sale will be used for the mission of the church–some to the Presbytery of San Fernando and some for Christian mission in another country. A substantial portion of the remainder of the funds from the sale was used for renovation of facilities at the church, beginning with the sanctuary and courtyard in 2012.
In January of 2008, Rev. Andrew Kasberg was called as Associate Pastor, bringing with him great energy, vibrancy, and a love for the church. Pastor Andrew serves alongside Pastor Ross, teaching, preaching, and serving the congregation.
In 2012, we celebrate 125 years as a congregation dedicated to serving the cause of Jesus Christ in Burbank and the world beyond. Burbank Pres is proud of a long history of Christian service to the Burbank community and looks forward to a future filled with the confidence that God, who has led us in the past, will continue to lead us in the years ahead.