The history of First United Methodist Church mirrors in many ways the history of the city. 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 one of the first one hundred Methodist churches in America.
After a rapid period of growth in the early 1800’s, 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 St., near Third. 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 is today St. Paul A.M.E. Church. At the same time, about a third of our congregation left to found what is today Centenary United Methodist.
Over the decades, First Methodist’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, and supporting groups, literally 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 Pantry.
While we were 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 a second and third campus –– our Andover Community on Todds Road and our Offerings Community on Regency Road. Today, First United Methodist Church comprises three distinct communities with a total of six Sunday 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, while pursuing its many missions. Notably, five ministers who served the First Church pulpit became bishops (including the first women elect bishop from Kentucky), and one of our members 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 United Methodist Church continues its mission to invite, equip and deploy faithful followers of Jesus Christ across the street and around the world.
Foster Ockerman, Jr.