Our History

In existence for more than 180 years, First Presbyterian Church has a rich history. We invite you to explore our background and learn more about the building blocks of our past.

First Presbyterian Church

First Presbyterian Church of Lexington, North Carolina was organized July 15, 1827, with two elected and ordained elders among nine members who had been meeting in a log house south of town. By 1840, increased membership led to the erection of a one room, rectangular brick building on the site of the church today. Enlargement and remodeling projects have surrounded the building. The only remaining part of the original structure is a portion of the north wall of the present sanctuary.

The sanctuary, first called a lecture room, has seen both enlargements and renovations which have incorporated extensive Biblical symbolism that inspires reverence. The donations of a George S. Hutchings Organ, Opus 499, and a Steinway Grand Piano have enhanced worship services.

In early years, the church began a Sabbath School, the first in Lexington. The building now serves as offices on West Third Avenue. A manse was built behind the church and later converted to classrooms. It has since been removed, and the site is now used for an enlarged educational building, Preschool classrooms, choir rehearsal suite, fellowship hall, and kitchen. There is a basement for youth group meetings and Scout activities. A tower and narthex have replaced an earlier gallery and choir loft originally located at the rear of the church.

As numerous additions were dedicated to the glory of God, the church was also growing spiritually: Sunday School programs increased, providing Christian education for all ages; the first youth meetings began as a Christian Endeavor Society often attended by the youth of other denominations; choirs for children and adults developed; local and foreign mission work began; women's work was re-organized; and Bible study and prayer groups met in homes and at the church.

Spiritual outreach began when the church helped establish First Presbyterian Church in Winston-Salem in 1862. Locally, the congregation furnished ministers, teachers, and financial aid to three outposts. Two of them, Dacotah Mills Chapel and South Lexington Sunday School, united in 1936 to form Second Presbyterian Church. The third outpost grew into Meadowview Presbyterian Church in 1949, now Meadowview Presbyterian Church (PCA).

Outreach is evident today in that seven former members of First Presbyterian Church are now ministers. In addition to these, one is a Minister of Music, and three are Directors of Christian Education.

Our Organ

J. Zebulon and Winnifred Green, donors of the organ, were interested in restoring an older organ, preferably one from the nineteenth century, rather than commissioning an entirely new instrument. The Greens had been very much impressed with the large, restored 1893 Woodberry & Harris tracker organ in First Presbyterian Church of Waynesboro, Virginia, a church which, after a fire burned the sanctuary to the ground, opted to restore a nineteenth-century organ, and even went so far as to design a new sanctuary around it! The Greens made the decision to donate a complete organ in December 1992, and asked son Ed Zimmerman to head up the search. By March 1993, with the help of Don Olson and John Morlock of Andover Organ Company, and Alan Laufman of the Organ Clearing House, a beautiful instrument by George S. Hutchings had been located.

The new organ was originally built as George S. Hutchings Opus 499, 1900, for Pope Memorial Methodist Church of Cohasset, Massachusetts, and, after the congregation either dispersed or merged with another, the organ was sold to the Nativity of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church, also in Cohasset. For Lexington, the organ received an entirely new case, structure, key action and key desk, in addition to a number of tonal changes and additions. The old reservoir, swell box, and manual chests were retained. Originally consisting of six stops, the Great was enlarged to nine, to include a recycled Twelfth (formerly a Hook & Hastings Violina 4'), and new Fifteenth, Mixture, and Trumpet. The original 8' Open Diapason was found to be severely damaged, and was replaced with a Hook & Hastings treble, with the new polished tin bass pipes in the façade. The original, large-scale Melodia, labeled 'Gross Flöete,' was deleted in favor of a Hutchings Doppelflöte, the American answer to the French open 8' harmonique flute. "With two mouths instead of one and constructed of wood with closed tops, the stop is ravishing in its beauty and bold in its carrying power." The Swell organ originally had nine stops, and was enlarged to ten with the addition of a Cornet solo stop. The Salicional is the former Great Dolcissimo rescaled one note larger at tenor C. The Voix céleste is the former Swell Salicional. The old Aeoline and Violina were recycled as components of the Cornet III. As a replacement for the Hutchings Violina, a Hook & Hastings Principal 4' was substituted, thus giving the Swell its own Principal Chorus, as a foil to the Great. In addition, a Hook & Hastings Hautbois was substituted for the old Hutchings Fagotto. The Pedal organ was considerably expanded from two stops to nine. On straight tracker action are Pedal Principals 8' and 4', the new Trombone 16' and 8', and he original large-scale Bourdon 16'. On pneumatic action are a 1927 Moeller 16' Double Open Wood, and the Lieblich Gedeckt which share its bottom twelve notes with the Swell Bourdon.

For its new home, the south chamber was prepared to receive the organ, and the north chamber was closed up. The old tubular-pneumatic Pilcher (Henry Pilcher & Sons, Louisville), having given the church worthy service for over sixty years both in its old home in the pre-1963 sanctuary and in the new, was moved out by volunteers to yet another home in Lexington, to serve Bethany United Methodist Church. The organ was designed to blend with the elegant simplicity of the architectural design of the Chancel and Sanctuary. The two beautiful pipe shades at the top of the display pipes were hand-carved. Then new console was moved from a deep pit at the far corner of the Chancel to its present more appropriate location. At First Presbyterian, one of the larger issues was acoustical. So for the new organ, the heavy carpet, which originally covered the entire Chancel floor and across the area in front of the Pulpit and Lectern, was removed in favor of a beautiful new oak parquet floor. The result is a more lively musical sound than otherwise, as well as offering an improvement in speech characteristics by accentuating consonants. The successful result of this organ is a major contribution to the musical and spiritual life not only of the congregation but also of the community. It is the hope and prayer of donors, builders, and all those associated with the installation, that the organ would be used and used extensively both for the Church and for the community, that the glories of the great music performed continue to inspire, encourage, comfort, and edify all those who hear it. Even though it is an historic organ, it should not be a museum piece, but rather dynamic asset for organists and listeners alike --- particularly for those budding organ students who are so desperately needed in these days.

Our organ was featured in the 2001 Organ Historical Society Annual Convention. Dr. Edward Zimmerman, son of Mrs. Green, played the organ.

Information regarding the organ has been provided by Jonathan Poe and Dr. Edward Zimmerman.

Our Sanctuary: History and Symbolism

The present sanctuary was dedicated to the glory of God as the first service was held February 10, 1963. The passage of time saw the removal of the gallery; the addition of the narthex, tower, and choir loft; the building of the first, and later the second, floor of the old educational building; and finally, a complete renovation of the sanctuary reflecting quiet beauty and reverence. Only the north wall is part of the original building, but the exterior remains little changed.

The Chancel

Extensive symbolism is incorporated in the sanctuary. The chancel of the church is divided with the Cross and the Communion Table, the central elements.

The Latin Cross, as pictured at the left, has ends terminating in three petals, a symbol of the Trinity. The letters "INRI" affixed to the center of the Cross stand for the Latin phrase which was on the cross: "Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum," or "Jesus, King of the Jews." The letters are affixed to a concave background of deep red, symbolizing the sacrificial death of our Saviour. The Alpha and Omega symbols on either side of the cross are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, symbolizing Christ as the beginning and ending of all things, and in accordance with the words that were written: "I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end." (Rev. 21:6). For a larger image of the Cross, please click on the thumbnail at the left.

The pair of five-stem candelabras symbolize the five wounds of our Lord on the Cross. Together, they total ten, which is the symbol of "wholeness"; symbolizing that by the wounds of Jesus Christ, on the Cross, we are made "whole" again.

The gold-leaf Chalice on the Communion Table represents the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Carved into the face of the Chalice are representations of wheat (the bread) and grapes (the wine), symbolizing the body and blood of our Lord.

Other Sanctuary Symbols

The Burning Bush
Placed on the Lectern, this symbol from the seal of the Presbyterian Church, U.S., recalls the experience of Moses at the bush which "burned but was not consumed," and represents the Indestructible Church.

The Lamp
laced on the Pulpit, this symbol from the seal of the Presbyterian Church, U.S., represents the Witnessing Church, in accordance with the statement of our Savior to His disciples, "Ye are the light of the world...Let your light...shine...".

The Dove
Placed on the Baptismal Font, this symbol from the seal of the Presbyterian Church, U.S., represents the Holy Spirit coming from the baptism of Jesus, as recorded in John 1:32. "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove...".


First Presbyterian is a member of the Presbyterian Church (United States of America).

The word "Presbyterian" comes from the Greek word "presbuteros," which means "elder." The Old Testament shows us that tribes selected elders to lead them. In the New Testament examples of the church, the term is descriptive of the overseers of the local church congregation.

A Presbyterian church is led by elders. These elders are elected by the congregation. Authority rests with these elected representatives of the congregation in the church courts.

At the lowest level of the hierarchal structure of the Presbyterian church courts is the Session. Each Presbyterian church has its own Session, comprised of the church's pastor(s), as well as church members elected by the congregation to serve as elders. Each congregation decides how many Session members it needs, and both men and women are eligible to serve. The Session oversees the day-to-day activities of the church and supervises the Deacons (or Diaconate), who conduct the temporal and charitable ministry of the church.

Other Presbyterian church courts are, in rank from lowest to highest: the Presbytery, the Synod, and the General Assembly. You can find out more about Presbyterian Church Structure by visiting the web site of the PCUSA.

The information contained above was derived from the following sources:

What Presbyterians Believe. Gettys, Joseph. Copyright 1982.
About Being Presbyterian. Channing L. Bete Company, Inc. Copyright 1974.

History of the Presbyterian Church in America

The Presbyterian faith got its start overseas in Europe. The background for Presbyterian beliefs was established by a Frenchman named John Calvin (Jean Caulvin). Originally a Roman Catholic, Calvin converted to Protestantism in 1533. Calvin left his native France and settled in Geneva, Switzerland, where he began social and government reforms. Calvin's teachings were based on the belief in a sovereign God, which is a fundamental element of Presbyterian belief.

In the 1500s, persecution of Protestants increased in England and Scotland. John Knox fled his homeland of Scotland to avoid this persecution. He settled in Geneva, Switzerland, where he studied under Calvin. John Knox later returned to Scotland and established the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

Presbyterians and other protestants were ruthlessly persecuted for their beliefs. Such massive persecution in European countries such as Scotland, Ireland, England, and France caused many Protestants, a large number of whom were Presbyterian, to flee their homelands and settle in America.

Presbyterians in America were first organized around 1705. Presbyterianism spread among colonists. In 1741, the Presbyterian church split when new ideas clashed with traditional values. The Presbyterian faith continued to spread throughout all the colonies. Eventually, the Presbyterian church was reunited. Presbyterians came together in May of 1789 to form "The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America." Unfortunately, by 1837, the church again divided along the lines of new ideas and old ideas.

In 1845, the "New Side" Presbyterians divided after their Presbyterian Assembly passed some drastic resolutions regarding slavery. Just a few years later, in in 1861, the "Old Side" Presbyterians divided over the passing of the Gardiner-Springs resolution. This resolution, which called for loyalty to the United States, its government, and its Constitution, was passed during the Civil War. Of the eight states that had seceded from the Union, very few representatives were present at the resolution's passing. Compliance with the Gardiner-Springs resolution would have meant that those Presbyterians in the 8 seceded states would have had to leave home and community.

Over the years, the Presbyterian church in the United States has split, and parts have reunited several times. Currently the largest group is the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which has its national offices in Louisville, Kentucky. It was formed in 1983 as a result of reunion between the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (PCUS), the so-called "southern branch," and the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA), the so-called "northern branch." Other Presbyterian churches in the United States include: the Presbyterian Church in America, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. Our church, First Presbyterian of Lexington, North Carolina, is affiliated with the PC(U.S.A.).

The information contained above was derived from the following sources:

What Presbyterians Believe. Gettys, Joseph. Copyright 1982.
About Being Presbyterian. Channing L. Bete Company, Inc. Copyright 1974.

The Church Building

The church building has had many physical changes since First Presbyterian was organized. The church was established in 1827. Until the first church building was constructed, the congregants met in a log building just outside of town on Salisbury Road, sometimes with other denominations, until a church building was erected around 1840. This structure was built at the corner of South Main Street and West Third Avenue. The initial church structure is thought to be the oldest church building in Davidson County. This structure has been remodeled and added on to many times over the last 165 years.

In 1869, a manse was erected behind the church. In 1947, a new home for the minister was built on Westover Drive. The old manse was then used as classroom space. As the church continued to grow, larger facilities were needed. As a result, the educational building was built and dedicated in 1955 on the site where the 80-year-old manse had stood. When new trends emphasized the advantage of the minister's being a home owner, the house on Westover Drive was sold. The church now furnishes a housing allowance for the minister.

In 1989, we erected a new wing to the church which contained a new, enlarged fellowship hall and kitchen area. The wing also had a basement area to be used by the youth groups and Scouting programs. This addition was needed to accomodate the growing list of programs and activities of the church.

In the spring of 1993, the church purchased land across South Main Street from the church and made it into a beautiful landscaped parking lot.

During 1998, in response to the needs of our church family, we constructed a columbarium and memorial garden on our church property.

During 2003 and 2004, we conducted the church's largest construction project, funded by our church members pledging $2,413,315. With the exception of the sanctuary, which had been recently remodeled, the remainder of the building was brought up to present day standards. We installed new heating and air conditioning systems, made the building handicap accessible, rearranged classrooms and spaces to conform to present day uses and programs, and added a wing for our Preschool program, classrooms, and a library and conference room. We put on new roofs, new wallcoverings and paint, and new floor coverings. We now have a building with construction materials that date from 1840 through 2004.