Celebrate the Journey 1827-2002
Third Presbyterian Church
Celebrates 175 Years of Ministry
 
 
Charles Finney and Third Church 

Charles G. Finney, "the man who made Rochester religious," supplied the pulpit of Third Church for six months in 1830-31. Although he never served as the installed pastor, his greatest revival was based here. Joel Parker, the dynamic first pastor, had left. Without a pastor, with 150 members, burdened by a church building far too large, the three and a half year old congregation felt that they would be scattered unless something could be done to revive religion among them. Because Parker and Finney were acquainted, it appears that Parker suggested that Finney "supply them for a season." After wrestling in prayer, he reluctantly answered what he felt to be a call from God.

Finney's influence in Rochester in the six months he spent here was amazing. Trained as a lawyer, he was converted in 1821, reporting that he would rather represent his Lord than any man. Both by temperament and by training, Finney was a man of powerful logic. His discourses were brightened by everyday illustrations and presented with a powerful voice with variations which enabled audiences to listen to his two and half hour sermons.

Finney believed that salvation was open to all, not only to those elected by God, and that a person might rise form sinful nature. He denounced slavery as unchristian and fought for the equality of races. He stood for total abstinence at a time when the use of alcohol was major social problem. In a day when women were looked upon as helpmates for men, he permitted them to speak and to pray in public meetings, thereby risking strong criticism. Outspoken, he named individuals without their knowledge or permission both in preaching and in fervent prayer.

During Finney's six months here, 158 persons joined Third Church, 92 at one time. Other churches in which he preached also had great additions, among whom were many who became leaders in the development of Rochester's business and civic life.

The only official church record of Finney's time here is of a congregational meeting on January 12, 1831, when a call was extended to the Reverend Fayette Shipherd, who evidently declined the call. Presbytery records show Finney's attendance at a meeting in March 1831.

Finney had two more Rochester revivals, in 1832 and 1855, though neither had the enthusiasm or number of converts as the first. At the time of the latter revival, it was suggested the he might be invited to preach again in Third Church. Dr. Hall, a conservative firmly grounded in the old school faith, would permit this only if he would refrain from "uttering his peculiar views." Finney did not preach. After a career as an outstanding evangelist in the States and in England, he became the president (1851-66) of Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, where he died. He is commemorated by a boulder and tablet on our Meigs Street corner as well as being pictured in stained glass windows in the chapel and church.  

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