The history of First United Methodist Church (First Church) mirrors in many ways the history of Lexington. Methodists were among the earliest settlers of Lexington, and national Methodist leaders sent ministers to Lexington to organize believers into what was called the Society of Methodists, by 1789. We met first in a small cabin on the east end of town. We were the first Methodist church west of the Allegheny Mountains and among the first one hundred Methodist churches in America.
After rapid growth in the early 1800s, during which time the congregation built and outgrew additional church buildings and locations, the church moved in 1840 to a lot on High Street and built a new church. That original lot lies under half of the current sanctuary. Further growth led to enlargement of the 1840 church twice. By 1900, the congregation had again outgrown its sanctuary. With the generous bequest of a member, the old building was removed and the current sanctuary erected in 1907.
The young church started its first mission in 1820, for city slaves, in a stable on Upper Street, near Third Street. In 1866, with the end of the Civil War, about 300 black members of the church left to join those in the mission to establish what became Saint Paul A.M.E. Church. At the same time, about a third of the congregation left to found what is today Centenary United Methodist.
Over the decades, First Church’s mission work has been unabated. Former missions are now Park, Epworth/Embrace, Southern Hills and Hope Springs United Methodist Churches. Nathaniel UM Mission in Davistown was started in 1946, and in 1995 we helped found Tree of Life UMC in Estonia. Today, First Methodist supports missionaries, missions and churches around the world in Europe, India, Haiti, Brazil, Mexico, Liberia, East Africa, Ghana, and other places as well as local missions and agencies, including Room in the Inn, God's Table, Habitat, and God's Panty.
While serving as the “mother church” for Lexington’s Methodist churches, we enlarged the 1907 building, acquired more land for expansion and parking, built a parsonage, added a childrens' wing in 1954 and a major wing in 1984 (where the West Chapel and Gathering Hall are today), acquired historic Rokeby Hall which houses our Church offices, and added additional Sunday services.
Most recently, we changed our pattern of growth and established our second campus on Todds Road with our Andover church and added another service in the West Chapel for our Offerings service. Today, First Church offers three distinct communities with five services where people can worship and experience God.
For over two hundred years, First Church has provided clergy and lay-leadership as one of the leading Methodist churches in Kentucky. Notably, five ministers who served the First Church pulpit became bishops (including the first woman from Kentucky), and one member was elected to the United Methodist Judicial Council. Countless lay members have served in leadership positions across the United Methodist Church.
Now well into its third century, First Church continues its mission to invite, equip and deploy faithful followers of Jesus Christ across the street and around the world.
(The preceding church history was compiled and written by Foster Ockerman, Jr., Church Historian).
First United Methodist Church of Lexington is one church with multiple expressions, where Christian believers worship and share life together, grow in faith, love, and in the knowledge of God’s Word, serve its neighbors in prayer and through acts of mercy, while inviting others to become lifelong learners in the Christian faith. Currently, First Church consists of three unified but not uniform communities: Andover, Downtown, and Offerings. The long and treasured history of the church demonstrates the value and importance of making disciples by being where people are. To that end, three distinct communities of faith exist as one church with the same mission, values, strategy and leadership. Each community partners with the others to serve their respective communities and transform the world one life at a time.
The community of faith located at 200 West High Street is committed to being “downtown for good.” That slogan communicates the willingness of the congregation to continue its historic witness as a presence of Christian love and service in the downtown Lexington community. Worship services in the main sanctuary are traditional. The organ and choir music is known for its quality and inspiration. The beautiful setting of First Church, the center aisle, and warm décor of the sanctuary are very appealing to young couples seeking a wedding venue.
The “Offerings” community presently meets in the West Chapel of the downtown campus. This fellowship seeks to take the Word of God and put it into practice in everyday, ordinary life. All ages enjoy this worship experience that blends contemporary and traditional music, liturgy and weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
The Andover community meets at 4131 Todds Road in the Hamburg/Andover. This vibrant ministry includes a growing group of children and youth that fully participate in the church, a choir that serves each Sunday, talented musicians who share their gifts, and Sunday school classes available for all ages.
First United Methodist Church affirms its conviction of being a connectional church. The three lead pastors spend time together weekly to offer each other support, encouragement, and direction. One administrative structure oversees the total life of the church, but ministry and mission are carried out through each local community. On high days of worship, such as Pentecost Sunday, the communities come together for corporate worship. The vision of First Church is to continue doing what it has done for over 224 years: reaching out across another street to more people and being in mission around the globe in the spirit of Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, who said, “The world is my parish.”
(The preceding account of First United Methodist Church of Lexington’s “One Church, Multiple Communities” was compiled and written by Dr. Michael T. Powers, Senior Pastor).