This is the story of a good church on Maxwell Street in Lexington, Kentucky. Its beginnings were ambitious, for it was to serve as a Presbyterian mission in 1891 to the new University of Kentucky on the south side of town. An Associate Pastor of First Presbyterian Church began with hardy volunteers from the church, and they began meeting in a house on Maxwell Street before building the first church building on the corner of Maxwell Street and Upper Street. The new church development was chartered as Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church in 1892.
The new congregation grew and prospered in this location for the next 25 years. Ministry to students, faculty, and staff of the University, plus a growing southern area of Lexington, were the focus of the church. Mission, however, was always an emphasis, with house churches for educating children in the city were scattered in neighborhoods north and south. By 1915, the original building could no longer hold the congregation.
So we began constructing a new church three blocks down Maxwell Street on the corner of Lexington Avenue, selling the old church building to Ohavah Zion Congregation. It is now Joe Bologna’s Restaurant. Current members remember still their families bringing mule teams to scoop out the basement of the new building, which was occupied in 1916. Mission continued with church school conducted in a half dozen downtown locations, as well as at Shriners’ Hospital and the Florence Crittendon Home. An Education Building was constructed in 1954, and many other renovations and expansions have taken place between the 1916 dedication, the 1992 Centennial Celebration, to the 100th Anniversary celebration of the Sanctuary in 2016.
At one time in the 1950s, the congregation was said to be around 1200. However, by 1989, at the time of a membership nadir, the Presbytery recommended that the church sell its property and relocate to the perimeter of the city: we declined and rediscovered our mission. Under the leadership of Rev. Dana Jones, the congregation exploded with mission to the downtown area of Lexington, with summer work camps and winter housing of homeless folks and temporary housing supplied for refugee families in the Blevins House, purchased in 1990, located directly behind the Sanctuary building. In 1998, the church acquired a new property for additional outreach, now called the Dana Jones Community Center, on the corner of Maxwell Street and Lexington Ave, which houses a burgeoning Maxwell Street Legal Clinic where immigrants come for legal advice and assistance.
Under the leadership of Dr. Woody Berry, the mission work has continued to grow with two of our major programs, Kids’ Café and Faith Pharmacy, transitioning into new partnerships with other community groups. Our Kids’ Café is now called E7 Kids’ Café and meets in the basement of New Hope Community Church on Martin Luther King Blvd, between East 6th and 7th Streets. Here neighborhood children are served hot and nourishing meals five times a week, participate in activities, and receive help with homework. A new addition to the program in 2016 was the sending of tutors into William Wells Brown Elementary to help students after school, then bringing them to E7 Kids’ Café. Faith Pharmacy provides for the large number of individuals who do not have the money to have their prescriptions filled. We merged this service with Mission Lexington, a joint program with other downtown churches, which provides medical care, dental care, and is now adding vision care. The newly refurbished building is a half block from MSPC on Martin Luther King Blvd.
On Sunday mornings, the Sandwich Ministry gathers to make sandwiches, soup and coffee, packing them with fruit and juice, then distributes this hearty food to more than 100 hungry and/or homeless people. Then on Thursday evenings, we welcome our neighborhood friends for a hot, fresh meal served in Fellowship Hall. People of all ages find many and various outlets for their gifts in volunteer opportunities, enjoying the special bonding that takes place among themselves and with those whom they serve. But perhaps most importantly, 24 individuals (11 females and 13 males) have been inspired to train for the ministry in recent years; 3 are currently under care of our Session and Presbytery. The description of the church has expanded from Mission to also focus on Diversity and Inclusion. The church became a part of the More Light movement, welcoming the GLBTQ community and helping change the Presbyterian Book of Order to include all people in all the offices of the church. With the change in national laws regarding marriage, Maxwell Street has led the way in opening the church for marriages for all people.
As always, congregational life centers on Sunday morning worship from which the community draws its strength. Over the years, the pulpit has been filled by pastors with different styles and perspectives, calling each member to spiritual growth and to greater understanding of self and God. In 2017, we chose to model our belief in diversity by moving to a Co-Pastor model with the Revs. Woody Berry and Matt Falco sharing the office of pastor, as they share in leadership with the elders, deacons, and all members of the congregation.
Recognizing the strength that comes from diversity, we have also encountered strong debates with one another. From our history come debates over whether black students should be allowed to eat lunch with the Bible Study Group in the 1950s (they could!), whether a man whose job was whiskey-taster should be elected Elder (he was!), whether we should have communion by intinction (we do!), or include E. 7th Street children in youth activities (of course, absolutely!). We weathered those discussions, coming out on the side of God’s justice. As in many other congregations, there are differences of understanding about interpretation of the Bible, inerrancy of scriptures, ordination standards, and inclusiveness. It is an ongoing challenge to move appropriately with the times, remain relevant, and to continue to spread the ageless good news that we have committed ourselves to share. We resolve our issues and move on.
We take our places in a long line of families and individuals who have worshiped, learned and served in this place. We are strong, courageous, optimistic and committed, full of energy and excitement for the possibilities, challenges, and hard work. We know we still have much to do and much to accomplish and share. We know, with no doubt, that it is the Lordship of Christ that we profess, the Lord’s work that we try to do, that our love for each other is stronger than anything that threatens to divide. Needing each other, yearning for peace, justice, and ever expanding love for all humankind, we move forward in anticipation of the ‘rest of the story’, which we are writing together.