Baptists, Beulah Baptist Church of Christ, Billy Graham, Charlotte, Christian Science, Episcopals, First Presbyterian Church, Greek Orthodox, Harrison Methodist, Hindus, Jews, Lutherans, Methodists, Moravian, Mormons, mosques, Muslims, non-denominational churches, North Carolina, Presbyterians, religious tolerance, Roman Catholics, Seventh Day Adventist, St Mark’s, St Peter’s, synagogues, The City of Churches, Unitarian
(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)
Charlotte, North Carolina, became known as ‘The City of Churches’ due to its high concentration of churches. In earlier times, people of many denominations were attracted to the area to escape the religious persecution they suffered elsewhere. This tolerance has continued to the present day.
Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, seeking religious and political freedom, were settling in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County by the mid 18th century. Around 1750, a Presbyterian congregation settled at Rocky River. Another group of Presbyterians arrived at Sugaw Creek. These were quickly followed by churches at Steele Creek, Hopewell, Poplar Tent, Center, Providence, and Philadelphia in the 1760s.
Charlotte was first settled in 1755 and became a town in 1768, but no church was established there until the following century. In 1815, land was set aside at Trade and Church Streets for religious purposes. A church building was commenced in 1818 and finally completed in 1823. Various denominations used it. The debt on it was taken over by the Presbyterians in 1832 and they built a larger church in 1833. It still stands and is now known as the First Presbyterian Church.
Other denominations were attracted by the region’s religious tolerance. The Methodists built a log church, the Harrison Methodist, in about 1810. Their first church in Charlotte was erected in 1833, being replaced in 1859 by the current building. The Baptists also constructed their first church in the town in 1833. It disappeared before a more permanent structure, the Beulah Baptist Church of Christ, was built in 1855. The Episcopals set up a church, St Peter’s, on West Trade Street in Charlotte in 1834. The town’s first Roman Catholic Church was established in 1852 on South Tryon Street. A Lutheran church, St Mark’s, was constructed in 1859.
These denominations continued to build new churches and by 1903 Charlotte boasted 64 churches in a city of about 20,000 people. More religious groups continued to be attracted to the city. A Jewish presence was established by 1875 with the Hebrew Benevolent Society, before a synagogue was built in 1918. A Seventh Day Adventist Church started in 1914. A Christian Science Church was set up in Charlotte in 1920. A Moravian Church, the Little Church on the Lane, was built in 1924. The Greek Orthodox congregation bought premises on South Boulevard from Westminster Presbyterian in 1929.
By 1940, Charlotte had 146 churches for a population of 100,000. The city had always attracted church-going people. For many years, its church attendance was reputed to be higher than any other city in the world, except Edinburgh in Scotland. It is thought that over 80 per cent of the city’s population went to their place of worship each week.
It is uncertain when Charlotte became known as ‘The City of Churches’. No official date is likely to have existed. Local people probably started to call their city by this nickname sometime in the late 19th or early 20th century. It doesn’t seem as though the name is used widely outside the region. The city is also known as the Queen City, being named after German princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg who had married British king James III in 1761. Another nickname is the Hornet’s Nest after British commander General Cornwallis called it ‘a hornet’s nest of rebellion’ following his ejection from the city by residents during the American War of Independence. Yet another name is ‘Tree City USA’ as it is one of the greenest cities in the country.
Charlotte has maintained its reputation as ‘The City of Churches’ over the years with continued growth in the number of churches and denominations present in the city. The first Unitarian church service was held at the Broadway Theater in 1947. The Mormons established the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1959. The Catholic presence increased when IBM and Gold Bond transferred thousands of workers from New York to Charlotte in the 1980s. Latino immigration to the area has meant further expansion of the many Catholic congregations.
The city has become a center for various religious groups. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, first set up in Minneapolis, later moved its headquarters to Charlotte. Wycliffe Bible Translators, SIM (Serving in Mission), the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church also have their headquarters in Charlotte. Campuses of the Reformed and Gordon-Conwell theological seminaries can be found in the city, while Queens University of Charlotte and the University of North Carolina both have thriving religious studies departments.
Religious tolerance has resulted in many non-Christian religions establishing a strong presence in Charlotte. A dozen synagogues have been built in or near the city, such as Temple Beth El, Conservative, and Temple Israel, at Shalom Park. The area has five mosques, including the Islamic Society of Greater Charlotte and the Islamic Center of Charlotte. The Hindu Center of Charlotte is located on City View Drive.
Non-denominational churches are growing rapidly in number and cater to a wide range of people. Many of the new churches start off meeting in hotel banquet halls, shopping malls, and theaters. Interfaith activities are coordinated by Mecklenburg Ministries. Religious organizations form the center of community life for many Charlotte residents, offering various activities and opportunities.
Today, the metropolitan area of Charlotte has about 1,500 places of worship, including 1,246 churches, catering for a population of 1.9 million. Baptist Churches have the greatest representation with 453 sites, followed by 186 Methodist Churches, 146 Presbyterian Churches, and 108 Churches of God. Charlotte City, with a population of about 670,000 people, has more than 700 houses of worship, including 555 churches. Of these, 204 are Baptist, 102 are Presbyterian, and 66 are Methodist. Charlotte has certainly earned its nickname as ‘The City of Churches’.