The village of Lexington was founded in 1800, and designated as the county seat.
Records of Baptist Church services conducted by itinerant Baptist ministers were held in Lexington as early as the 1820’s. Reverend Adiel Sherwood, a Baptist Minister, Educator and promoter of Baptist Missions from New York, recorded in his diary accounts of preaching and lodging in Lexington during this era.
Records indicate a Baptist Church was organized at some point in the town of Lexington, which eventually disbanded prior to 1847. The vast majority of Baptist Churches in Georgia during this era were rural congregations. A Baptist church in a town like Lexington in the early decades of the 19th century was rare and would have included Savannah (1802), Augusta (1814) and Columbus (1829). It was begun the same year as the Baptist Church in the railroad town of Marthasville, which was soon to be renamed Atlanta.
The current Lexington Baptist Church dates to 1847, when several members of the Antioch Baptist Church met with ministers from the Sarepta Baptist Association to organize and constitute the new church. The early membership called Sylvanias Landrum to be their first Pastor, and had a membership of 14. The membership included two African-Americans. The church met for worship at the Lexington Presbyterian Meeting House for the first two years of her existence.
Attendance and Church Membership
Although the membership was small in the early days, attendance was robust. Churches of this time typically only had a worship service once or twice a month. Consequently members of other churches (nearby Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian) frequently attended the worship services with other churches on the Sundays their congregations did not have scheduled worship.
Many children of church members attended who were not members, as it was typical for the decision for baptism and church membership in this era did not take place until a person was in their mid to late teens.
The presence of boarding students of the Meeson Academy also added to the numbers attending worship services.
Early Sunday School Work
The first Sunday School was a “Union Sunday School,” sponsored by the Lexington churches in 1847. These early Sunday Schools were for children and normally met each Sunday.
In 1857, LBC established its own Sunday School. Records indicate Lexington Baptist has conducted a Sunday School without interruption since its inception, which is rare in Georgia Baptist Churches begun in this era.
A Missionary Baptist Church
LBC has always proudly identified as a “missionary Baptist Church.” In 1836, a three-way division amongst Georgia Baptist emerged over the issue of missions.
One group called “the Whities” after their leader Cyrus White formed what would become the basis of the Freewill Baptist of Georgia. They were Armenian in their theology and supporters of missions but could not agree with the theology of the Missionary Baptist.
A second group was called “Primitive Baptist” sometimes referred to as “hyper-Calvinist.” This group was anti-missions, against theological education and other emerging “benevolent ministries” including Sunday Schools, Temperance Societies and Bible and Tract Societies. These Baptists which included several Associations in Georgia declared “non-fellowship” with missionary Baptist Churches in 1836.
The third group were the “Missionary Baptists,” composed of churches either aligned or supportive of the missionary and benevolence work of the Georgia Baptist and (national) Triennial Baptist Convention. In 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention was organized out of the Triennial Baptist Convention.
By law, all residents of Georgia, including slaves, were to have one day set aside as a “day of rest.” Religion was one of the few areas a slave had a personal choice. Because Baptist faith and practice emphasized individual choice (not infant baptism were the infant had no choice) many African-American’s preferred the Baptist faith.
African-Americans slaves were a part of the early church membership. When joining the church by a transfer of letter from other churches, they often brought a letter of permission from their master. By providing this letter, the master of the slave indicated he understood the membership requirements of the church and would not interfere with the slave’s participation in the fellowship of the body.
In addition to scheduled services of the church an additional service for the slaves was sometimes held on Sunday afternoons. The preaching was usually conducted by the white minister, and on occasion by black ministers. The observance of the ordinances of baptism and communion included participants of both races.
Slaves, especially in towns, had the opportunity to earn money. Some of this money was given through the church to support Southern Baptist African Missions. African-American missionaries Caesar Frazer and Isaac Roberts, both from Georgia, served as Southern Baptist Missionaries to Liberia. African Missions also included T.J. Bowen from Commerce and his wife from Greensboro, who pioneered Baptist work in Nigeria.
Following the Civil War, the African-American members began requesting their church letters with the intent of planting additional churches in the area. At least one such church exists to this day, and the LBC family enjoys worshipping with the congregation from time to time.
The Lexington Baptist Meeting House
The church met in the old Presbyterian Meeting House until a new Baptist Meeting House was built. This new building was dedicated in January 1850. The dedicatory sermon was preached by the Rev. William T. Bantley, Jr.. Brantley was a professor at the University of Georgia, and would later become Pastor of LBC.
The new sanctuary was constructed of brick, each four courses wide below the floor, and three courses thick from the floors to the roof line, all laid in an English bond pattern, popular at the time. At the time of its construction only five other Baptist Meeting Houses in Georgia had been built of brick.
Four large windows were on each side of the sanctuary allowing a flood of light to fill the spacious sanctuary. Green storm shutters flanked the outside of each window which would have been closed during the warmer months to help keep down the temperature. Two additional smaller widows were located in the balcony.
A 23 inch bronze bell was ordered from the Meenly’s Foundry in West Troy, New York. It is believed to be one of the few bonze church bells in Georgia known to survive the Civil War, when most bells were recast into cannons. It carries the date of 1850, the year the church was completed.
Meeting House Renovations
The original roof had a lower pitch which was raised during renovations in the 1890’s. At that time, the aging plaster ceiling was removed, possibly having been damaged in the 1886 earthquake, and was replaced with a wooden ceiling that was curved on the outer edges where it meets the walls. The old rectangular widows were replaced by the current gothic shaped windows and the exterior shutters removed.
Included with the 1890’s renovation was the addition of an inside baptistery, located beneath a removable floor in the pulpit area. Prior to this time, baptisms were known to have taken place near Shaking Rock Park (possibly Troublesome Creek) located somewhere in the vicinity of the church.
In the 1920’s, portions of the balcony and space below the balcony were partitioned off for use as Sunday School space.
In the 1990’s, a major renovation took pace in the sanctuary. New side entry halls were added either side of the pulpit, and a new baptistery was added to the east of the pulpit. New lighting was installed and other updates were made to the sanctuary. The choir loft was expanded along with the pulpit platform. These renovations were dedicated in 1996.
Through the years other renovations have included the addition of a porch, acoustical ceiling tiles, updates in lighting and sound, and the installation of central heating and air conditioning. The original pews and pulpit furniture have been replaced and carpet added to the aisles.
The early belfry and spire were removed and replaced by a fiberglass spire. The old belfry was fondly remembered as being the home for many years of an owl family and less fondly remembered for housing bats.
Educational, Fellowship, and Administrative Space
A new educational building was added in 1947. In 1977, an elevator and new lobby space were added. Additional educational space was built in 1993, and once more in 1998, when the church received as a gift the current Logan Family Ministry Center.
The building is an excellent example of re-purposing and older structure. Originally built as a cotton warehouse, the building found a new use as a “freezer locker” when cotton production declined during the boil weevil crisis of the 1920’s. After home refrigerators and freezers began to be marketed, the “freezer locker” became obsolete. In an effort led by church members the holders of the shares of the freezer locker gave their shares to the church which provided the church ownership of the property. A generous gift by the Logan family provided the seed money and incentive for the church to move forward with renovations which included a commercial kitchen, fellowship hall, bathrooms, educational space and additional storage space.
In 1857, grounds for a cemetery were given to the church by the Clark and Maxwell families. The cemetery has served both the church and larger community since that time. The earliest grave of a Revolutionary War Veteran predates the gift of the cemetery to the church. The cemetery contains over 700 graves including more than 80 veterans of the American Revolution, Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
A listing and photos of most of the cemeteries tombstones may be found at the website “Find a Grave." Plots are available for purchase and the cemetery is overseen by a committee appointed annually by the church.
Early Pastoral Leadership
Few Baptist Churches in 19th century Georgia had such an illustrious array of ministers as Lexington. This was in part due to the location of the church in Oglethorpe County, which was served by Georgia’s first railroad. Athens, in Clarke County and home to the University of Georgia, was due west two stations away. Green County, the 19th century home of Mercer University, was due south two stops. Many of these early pastors rode the train to their rural churches on their appointed weekends. Most ministers served multiple congregations rotating preaching schedules each weekend.
Five of the church’s seven 19th century pastors were educators at either UGA or Mercer, and included two college Presidents, one of the first Southern Baptist Home Missionaries appointed, one of the founding faculty of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and anther who owned two Baptist State papers. One was the longest serving President of the Southern Baptist and Georgia Baptist Conventions.
The founding pastor would later pastor one the state’s largest and one of the few “full time” churches, the First Baptist Church of Savannah. The longest tenured pastor was a judge and later became the second Corresponding Secretary of the Georgia Baptist State Mission Board.
Sylvanias Landrum 1847-1849
Dr. Nathan M. Crawford 1850-1852
Dr. William T. Brantley, Jr. 1853-1856
Dr. William Williams 1857-1858
Rev. L.R.L. Jennings 1859-1867
Dr. Patrick H. Mell 1868-1869
Dr. John G. Gibson 1869-1892