Idlewild's History

Our History

Welcome to Idlewild Presbyterian Church—a progressive urban church with a commitment to the residents of Memphis. Blessed with a tradition of energetic and inquiring members, it has been in the forefront of worship, education, community service, and social change for more than five generations.

The Idlewild congregation was formed in 1891. By 1921, with a membership of 853, the congregation had already outgrown its second building and the current location was selected. Award-winning architect George Awsumb designed our Gothic building, which was called “the South’s Cathedral of Presbyterianism.”


 Idlewild Presbyterian Church, Memphis, Tennessee.
This 1930s postcard was published by the National Druggist Sundry Company of Memphis and printed by Colourpicture of Boston. Photo courtesy of the Memphis Chamber of Commerce. It required a 1¢ stamp.

The building was officially finished in 1928, just before the volatile economic times of the Great Depression. Since Union Avenue was then a major highway, transients and homeless people frequently stopped at the church for help.

The Sixties were a time of social upheaval, with the Civil Rights movement organizing for social justice in the South. Idlewild exerted leadership in the community as tensions mounted. Our pastor, Dr. Paul Tudor Jones, and Idlewild members worked through the Committee on Community Relations as the public library, Memphis State University, the zoo, parks, museums, buses and restaurants were integrated. While some churches prohibited the seating of African-Americans at worship services, Idlewild helped to lead the faith community and was one of the few venues where integrated meetings could be held. In the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Idlewild Church was active in the formation of many community programs including the still-active Metropolitan Interfaith Association (MIFA) and Adopt-A-School tutoring program.

In 1960 the kindergarten was started, and the Children’s Center began in 1970. Today, hundreds of children are cared for in quality daycare, after-school, summer day camp and kindergarten programs.

Women have always held leadership positions at Idlewild. After the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church U.S. approved the ordination of women in 1964, Idlewild ordained its first women deacons in 1968, elders in 1974, and in 1976 called its first female associate minister.

In the 1990s Idlewild founded Idlewild Court, a transitional housing development administered by MIFA; brought RBI (Return Baseball to the Inner City) to Memphis; opened a Samaritan Counseling Center; supported a daycare center for children from low-income homes.

Today Idlewild remains a vibrant urban church with more than 1,400 members. We are committed to sharing God’s grace through education, fellowship, worship, music and outreach.

With More Than A Meal, kindergarten and daycare, global outreach, tutoring in public schools, Christian education, public concerts, sports programs, and traditional worship—Idlewild strives to serve Memphis, the greater community and the world in ways that nurture the spirit, feed the body, and inspire the soul.

The Sanctuary Building

The cornerstone of our beautiful Gothic church was laid in 1926, and the building was officially finished in 1928. Architect George Awsumb believed “good architecture should satisfy man’s physical, mental and spiritual needs in such a way as to add to the general welfare and happiness of mankind.” Inside and out, the architectural integrity of Idlewild creates a beautiful space for worship, prayer, study and ministry.

"The South’s Cathedral of Presbyterianism"


Idlewild's beautiful Gothic style building was built in 1928. It was designed by architect George Awsumb. Built with stone from quarries in Arkansas, the design is similar to the original buildings of Rhodes College.  On July 7, 2009 Idlewild Presbyterian Church was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Carillon

Although the church building was completed in the late 1920s, the magnificent bell tower, rising 120 feet above the sanctuary, remained empty for decades. The full 48-bell carillon was completed in 1999, and was initiated on December 31, 1999 at 11:59 as a welcome to the third millennium. Together the bells weigh more than 26,890 pounds! Visit the Music Ministry page to learn more about our carillon.


A Greeting From Our Pastor

Get Involved

Education, Outreach, Fellowship

Worship Service

Assemble In God's Name

Presbyterian Beliefs

What We Believe To Be True