The first meeting of the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley was held at the First Presbyterian Church of Selma, Alabama on January 11, 1988. One of the first official actions of the new Presbytery was to approve the proposed new name of Sheppards and Lapsley, named for William Sheppard, Lucy Gantt Sheppard, and Samuel Lapsley, missionaries to the Congo.
Suddenly, everyone in the sanctuary was piqued with curiosity. Today, our presbytery’s name sounds familiar and natural. But fourteen years ago, when first spoken publicly, it sounded odd and unnatural. And its utterance was followed by a “tell me more” silence. So Patrick Wilson continued, sharing the story of William and Lucy Gantt Sheppard and Samuel N. Lapsley—an African-American pastor and wife and a white pastor sent as missionaries in 1890 by Presbyterians of central Alabama to Belgian King Leopold’s Congo. Patrick reasoned that, by adopting this name, we would put our mission heritage forever before us, thus challenging ourselves to build upon it.
The Presbytery name reflects historically on the ministry of Presbyterians within the state of Alabama and theologically on the mission of the Presbyterian Church (USA). As Presbyterians in the central part of Alabama, the chosen name signifies the responsiveness of Presbyterians to the call for service in the past century and also serves as a challenge to our new Presbytery to continue to be responsive to the call to mission in the future. Our name also makes a statement about Christian fellowship in that the name represents the inclusiveness of all God’s people - black and white, male and female - working together for the furtherance of God’s Kingdom.