First Reformed United Church of Christ traces its Reformed roots to the early 1700s in Germany and Switzerland. The leadership of Ulric Zwingli in Switzerland, John Calvin in France, Martin Bucer in Strasburg, the Elector Frederick of the Palatinate, scholars Olevianus and Ursinus developed a new form of church doctrine. These men and others founded the Reformed church on a simple, scriptural and spiritual basis. The Reformed faith spread to the countries of northern Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries.
In the early 18th century thousands of Germans, Scotch–Irish, Welsh and English were forced to leave their countries due to political, religious and economic conditions. Many emigrants settled in Pennsylvania and were members of the Reformed Church and then migrated south into Viriginia and North Carolina.
The Germans who came to North Carolina from Pennsylvania belonged to three different groups—Lutheran, Reformed and Moravian. The Lutherans and the German Reformed groups settled in the same area of Piedmont North Carolina, the counties of Rowan, Davidson, Stanly and Cabarrus. The Abbotts Creek section of Davidson County attracted many settlers and a house of worship was erected. A more permanent structure was built and called Leonard’s church. It was later named Pilgrim Reformed Church. Valentine Leonhardt had five sons. Two of those sons were named Jacob Calvin Leonard (Merle Hodges’s grandfather) and Pleasant James Leonard (Theodore Leonard’s father).
By the late 1880’s the Reformed Church in the south had grown so much that there were not enough ministers to serve the pulpits. By 1901, eleven more Reformed Churches had been formed in Davidson County, although there was not a Reformed Church in the city of Lexington.
The history of First Reformed United Church of Christ would not be complete without including its founder and pastor for 39 years, Jacob Calvin Leonard. Pleasant James Leonard was Jacob’s older brother and was a great supporter of his brother. Pleasant was quite an accomplished musician and was the first organist at our church. On October 4, 1900, Rev. Jacob Calvin Leonard laid the first brick for the new sanctuary of First Reformed Church. The church was ready for its first service on Sunday, January 20, 1901 and was dedicated on February 17, 1901. The church continued to grow. By 1911 the church membership was 276. By 1920 church membership had increased to 444 and Lexington was booming.
In 1934 the General Synod of the Reformed Church and the Evangelical Synod of North America met in Ohio to organize the General Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church. The Reformed group emphasized education and the Evangelical group emphasized evangelism. On August 5, 1934, our church was officially named The First Evangelical and Reformed Church of Lexington.
When the Southern Synod was organized in 1939, there were sixty-two congregations. Fifty-eight congregations were located in Piedmont North Carolina. Also in 1939, the First Church congregation had grown in membership from the original 22 to 733 active members. The Sunday School enrollment was 695 pupils.
The United Church of Christ was formed in 1957 by the merger of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches.
First Reformed UCC holds its standing in the Western North Carolina Association which is part of the Southern Conference of the United Church of Christ.
This information was taken from the book–“A Celebration 1901-2001” — A Hundred Years in the Life of First Reformed United Church of Christ. By Katherine E. Skipper.