Charlotte has been a churchy place since the mid-1700s, when the Scots-Irish pioneers who settled Mecklenburg County launched seven churches – all of them Presbyterian.
These days, there are 700-plus churches in the Queen City. We still have a lot of Presbyterians, but many more Catholics, Baptists, and Methodists. And today’s local religious landscape also includes thriving synagogues and Hindu and Buddhist temples, as well as a growing number of mosques.
Visitors who fly into Charlotte and then rent a car or hail a cab may notice they’re traveling on Billy Graham Parkway – named for the world-famous Protestant preacher, who happens to be the city’s most famous native son.
Charlotte is home to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association – led by Graham’s son, Franklin – and the Billy Graham Library, a presidential-like museum that draws Christian tourists from around the world.
The historic AME Zion Church, a major African American denomination, is also headquartered in Charlotte. One of its most prominent local churches: Little Rock AME Zion, whose pastor is the Rev. Dwayne Walker.
In the tradition of Billy Graham, dynamic preachers lead some of the city’s biggest churches.
In the African American community, the Rev. Clifford Jones Sr. pastors Friendship Missionary Baptist, the spiritual home to a few former Charlotte mayors , and Bishop Claude Alexander heads University Park Baptist – better known as “The Park.”
Preaching live and on screens at various satellite campuses in and around Charlotte: the Rev. David Chadwick, a former Tar Heel basketball player who pastors the non-denominational Forest Hill Church, and the Rev. Steven Furtick, whose Elevation Church is a magnet for young people and one of the fastest growing evangelical churches in America.
For most of its history, North Carolina’s religious culture could be described as “MethoBaptist,” a word coined by a professor at Duke University to indicate the longtime dominance of Methodist and Baptist churches.
Charlotte still has many of both. The biggest are probably Hickory Grove Baptist, pastored by the Charlotte-born Rev. Clint Pressley, and Myers Park United Methodist, led by the Rev. James Howell, who’s also an author of books and essays.
Other Protestant megachurches include Christ Lutheran, Christ Episcopal, and Myers Park Presbyterian – all three to be found along Providence Road.
Also popular: Central Church of God, a Pentecostal house of worship pastored by the Rev. Loran Livingston.
But with so many Yankees and Latinos moving to Charlotte in recent years, Roman Catholicism has become the city’s largest single denomination. And by far the biggest church in town is St. Matthew Catholic, named for the patron saint of bankers. Monsignor John McSweeney presides over this 27-year-old parish and its 8,700 registered families.
With the culture wars raging anew – Charlotte churches were on both sides of a 2012 statewide vote on same-sex marriage – conservative Catholics feel at home at St. Ann Catholic, where the Rev. Tim Reid has re-introduced the Latin Mass for some services. Liberals, meanwhile, gravitate to St. Peter Catholic, a Jesuit parish in uptown Charlotte with a commitment to social justice issues.
Liberal Protestants like Myers Park Baptist, which has a history of joining with non-Christian houses of worship and welcoming gays and lesbians. Conservative Christians prefer First Baptist Church of Charlotte, near uptown, whose pastor, the Rev. Mark Harris, led the campaign for the state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
Charlotte also has Shalom Park, a 54-acre campus where you’ll find Temple Beth El, a Reform Jewish congregation led by Rabbi Judy Schindler, and Temple Israel, where Rabbi Murray Ezring leads a Conservative Jewish congregation.
At last count, Charlotte’s growing Muslim population attends 10 different mosques, including the Islamic Center of Charlotte, which has a mostly Middle Eastern membership, and Masjid Ash-Shaheed, a mostly African American mosque.
And in an increasingly diverse Charlotte, religious and otherwise, we also have the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte, the Liên Hoa Vietnamese Buddhist Temple, the Hindu Center of Charlotte, the Baha’i Community of Charlotte, Charlotte Friends Meeting (the Quakers) and various wards of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons.
Tim writes about religion for the Observer.
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