Let me take you on a tour of the religious side of Charlotte.
We can’t stop everywhere – the area is home to more than 700 houses of worship.
But here are nine essentials:
The Billy Graham Library
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4330 Westmont Drive
In 1918, the man who would become a globe-trotting evangelist and the pastor to U.S. presidents was born on a dairy farm in Charlotte. So this presidential-like museum is shaped like a barn, and the first voice you’ll hear inside is that of a talking mechanical cow. The library uses memorabilia, films and exhibits to trace the career of Graham, including a replica of the tent that beckoned pilgrims to his 1949 crusade in Los Angeles – the one that made him nationally famous. Also on the site off Billy Graham Parkway: His restored boyhood home and the grave of his late wife, Ruth. Graham, now 96 and living in Montreat, will someday be buried next to her.
5007 Providence Road
This 54-acre campus is the center of Jewish life in Charlotte. It’s home to Temple Israel, a Conservative synagogue, and Temple Beth El, a Reform congregation. There’s also the Levine Jewish Community Center, religious schools, a library, the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte. It opened in 1986 and remains a national model. Every year, the park hosts a Jewish film festival and a Holocaust memorial.
United House of Prayer for All People
601 Beatties Ford Road
Known for its brassy “shout” bands, its mass baptisms and its popular soul food cafeterias, this denomination has a long history in Charlotte. “Sweet Daddy” Grace, the founding bishop, set up a tent at Third and Caldwell streets in 1926. Today, the city has several House of Prayer churches – including the towering “mother house” on Beatties Ford Road.
St. Matthew Catholic Church
8015 Ballantyne Commons Parkway
With a flock of 9,800 families – or about 38,000 members – this parish near Ballantyne is one of the biggest Catholic churches in America. Named for the patron saint of bankers, it was launched 29 years ago in a movie theater. Many of its regulars grew up in heavily Catholic parts of the North and Midwest and eventually migrated South – once mission territory for the Catholic Church. On weekends, St. Matthew’s priests celebrate a total of nine Masses in its main amphitheater-like church and at its satellite site in Waxhaw.
8835 Blakeney Professional Drive
Every weekend, this Southern Baptist church attracts more than 17,000 worshipers – many of them young adults – to its 10 (and counting) locations in the Charlotte area. That makes the 9-year-old evangelical church one of the fastest growing in the country. Among the draws: Its Christian rock music, its state-of-the-art media and its charismatic pastor, the Rev. Steven Furtick. He usually preaches from the stage of the church’s Blakeney campus, with his sermon simulcast at all other Elevation sites.
Hindu Temple of Charlotte
7400 City View Drive
The Charlotte region’s Hindu community now numbers more than 4,000 families. And for 30 years, these adherents of the world’s oldest religion have been worshiping their deities in a temple on a 3.2-acre spot off Independence Boulevard. Now they are building a grand new temple that will measure nearly 20,000 square feet and rise to a height of 81 feet. Its concrete walls will be dressed with a 1-inch covering of sandstone cut and hand-carved in Jodhpur in India. And it will be home to 13 deities.
Little Rock AME Zion Church
401 N. McDowell St.
Founded as a reaction against slavery and racial segregation, the AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Zion Church is a major denomination with beginnings in the late 18th century. It is headquartered in Charlotte and now has more than 1.4 million members. Its missionaries work in Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas. In Charlotte, its most prominent church is Little Rock AME Zion, which is frequently the site for community and civil rights gatherings – including after the June shootings at an African American church in Charleston.
To round out our tour, let’s also check out the city’s:
Stroll or drive up and down these roads to see some of the city’s most prominent churches.
▪ On and just off Tryon Street in uptown Charlotte, you’ll see some of the city’s oldest churches, including St. Peter Catholic (507 S. Tryon St.), First Presbyterian (200 W. Trade St.), St. Peter Episcopal (115 W. 7th St.), First United Presbyterian (201 E. 7th St.) and First United Methodist (501 N. Tryon St.).
▪ On and just off Providence Road in Myers Park sit some of the city’s biggest churches, including Myers Park United Methodist (1501 Queens Road), Myers Park Presbyterian (2501 Oxford Place), Christ Episcopal (1412 Providence Road) and Christ Lutheran (4519 Providence Road).
▪ And on Beatties Ford Road, in the heart of the African-American community, you’ll find Friendship Missionary Baptist (3400 Beatties Ford Road) and The Park Church (6029 Beatties Ford Road), each with more than 8,000 members.
Festivals and holidays
Houses of worship play a central role in some of Charlotte’s most festive occasions, complete with ethnic cuisine, music and tours of the sacred spaces. On the list:
▪ The Tét festival, marking the Vietnamese New Year, is hosted by St. Joseph Vietnamese Catholic Church (4929 Sandy Porter Road) in January or February.
▪ Members of The True Buddha Society (5909 Monroe Road) are among the revelers in February for celebration of the Chinese New Year.
▪ During Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, two major Islamic holidays, Charlotte area Muslims from Islamic Center of Charlotte (1700 Progress Lane) and other mosques gather for community prayer. The locations vary, as do the dates (Muslims follow a lunar calendar).
▪ Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral (600 East Blvd.) hosts the popular Yiasou Greek Festival every September. Make sure to check out the beautiful icons in the church.
▪ Spanish-speaking Catholics, particularly those from Mexico, gather every December at Bojangles’ Coliseum to celebrate the feast day of Mary as Our Lady of Guadalupe. Many of those with a devotion to “Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe” attend Our Lady of Guadalupe parish (6212 Tuckaseegee Road).
Tim is the Observer’s faith & values reporter.