Emmanuel Reformed Church of Lincolnton recently celebrated a significant milestone — the 100th anniversary of its current worship facility.
While the church building was not erected until 1913, for the low cost of under $10,000, members met as early as 1785 in area homes, church historical documents said.
In 1788, three years after the church’s founding fathers had been meeting in homes, local Dutch Presbyterians built a church log house.
In 1819, the wooden structure developed its more commonly known nickname, the “Old White Church,” after members remodeled and added on to the building, documents said.
Members of various denominations flocked to the central worship location each week until 1893, when a large-scale blaze destroyed the meetinghouse two days before Christmas.
Fire has plagued Emmanuel’s past on more than one occasion, members said.
Church organist and lifetime member Jane Perkins remembered watching flames consume the top of her childhood church on April 20, 1991, the day lightning struck the building.
The event made the front page of the Times-News and other local news outlets.
She talked about the incident as though it were still fresh on her mind.
“You thought the whole church was being burned down,” Perkins said. “I thought the whole world had come to an end.”
Firefighters fought the flames, mostly in the attic, for two hours, media reports said.
The sanctuary suffered the building’s only damage but included giant holes in the roof and attic area.
Currently the oldest member at Emmanuel, Lincolnton resident Bill Leonard said he also witnessed the church fire.
Ironically, media reports said candles inside the sanctuary sustained no heat damage in the incident.
The sanctuary was later rebuilt, with members celebrating their first service since the devastation on Easter Sunday a year later.
Like Perkins, Leonard has also attended the church since birth — his parents attended before him, he said.
“I was baptized as an infant there and did everything there was to be done,” he said.
In addition to teaching Sunday school and singing in the choir, Leonard once served as president of the church’s consistory, or governing body, and chairman of the building committee, he said, which oversaw the construction of the church fellowship hall during the 1970s.
He credits his father’s example as motivation for his own extensive involvement.
“My father was one of the most active members in the church, and I followed in his footsteps,” Leonard said.
Four years after Emmanuel received its own building on East Main Street, a parsonage was erected, church documents said.
A kitchen and other additions, including Sunday school rooms, were added in 1931.
Three years later, the church joined the Evangelical and Reformed Church followed by a merger during the 1950s between the Evangelical and Congregational Christians, which renamed the church to Emmanuel United Church of Christ, documents said.
The church received its current title in 2010.
Earlier this month, Emmanuel’s members celebrated its building’s centennial anniversary by displaying numerous newspaper articles, pictures, hymnals, church history books and other special artifacts on tables just outside the church sanctuary.
Perhaps the most significant item now displayed inside the church is a wooden pew saved from the fire at the “Old White Church.”
While it was pulled from the wreckage the night of the blaze, it was not presented to the church until years later in 1932, according to a plaque attached to the pew.
Current pastor, Keith Brown, considered this month’s celebration “evidence” of Godly church members’ “vision, faith and determination” over the years.
Brown has served in the local church leadership role since April but has preached in various locations across the country for the last two decades, he said.
While Perkins said Emmanuel’s membership remains small, with roughly 40 people in attendance each Sunday, Brown called his tight-knit congregation a “caring” group “with a welcoming heart and desire to serve.”
For more information on Emmanuel Reformed Church of Lincolnton, visit erclincolnton.com/church/.