This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Restoration Movement in Lexington.
The members of this movement declared themselves free from denominational creeds and traditions, favoring a “Bible only” approach that they hoped would unify believers. In 1816, a group of Christians who ascribed to that philosophy is said to have begun meeting in Lexington.
The movement’s roots in Kentucky preceded that, though. Soon after Barton W. Stone led a large revival at the Cane Ridge meeting house in Bourbon County in 1801, Stone left the Presbyterian Church and established an independent church.
Stone’s movement eventually joined with another led by another former Presbyterian, Alexander Campbell, after Stone met Campbell in 1824 while Campbell toured Kentucky to preach at churches in Lexington and other parts of central Kentucky.
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After that, the Restoration Movement also became known as the Stone-Campbell Movement.
The goal of the movement was to mimic the church described in the New Testament, and its members united under the names “Christian” and “Disciples of Christ.” Adherents were known for taking communion each week and a belief in adult baptism by immersion. The irony, said Central Christian senior minister David Shirey, is that “a movement that wanted to bring Christian unity is now in three pieces.”
The movement gave rise to three distinct religious groups — Disciples of Christ, Independent Christian churches and the Churches of Christ (a capella) — that splintered over a variety of issues through the years, ranging from missions to the use of musical instruments.
Now, an effort is under way to bridge the gaps that have divided them.
Restoration 200, an event celebrating the movement’s 200 years in Lexington, will be held 3 to 5 p.m. May 15 at Lexington’s Courthouse Plaza on Main Street. The public worship service will include music, speakers and communion.
“It was a significant thing that happened here 200 years ago, and we think it deserves recognition,” said Brad Walden, retired minister at Tates Creek Christian Church.
Central Christian Church traces its roots to 1816 and that meeting in Lexington, and a year’s worth of topics and events related to that have been planned.
One of the church’s early locations was on Main Street, where the city’s police department is now headquartered. A historical marker on the sidewalk marks the spot.
Shirey said that church became “a central part of the Lexington community.”
The church moved to its current site and became Central Christian in 1894, according to a book published for the church’s 175th anniversary.
Today, Shirey said, the entire block is devoted to ministries of the church, including the St. James Place Apartments for veterans and formerly homeless people, the Central Christian Child Care Center, the Central Music Academy, a satellite of God’s Pantry and a thrift store, among others.
“Central has always wanted to be a place that was a welcoming place for the community,” Shirey said.
In one sense, Central Christian is a “mother church” for many other Restoration Movement churches in Lexington, said Nathaniel Collier, who is organizing the Restoration 200 event.
“You have five generations of churches that come from this church,” he said. “We saw it as a great opportunity to bring about a revival.”
Collier said 60 churches and 14 other organizations are expected to be represented at Restoration 200. Part of the goal of the event is to heal division and consider what Christian unity should look like, he said.
“Not only are we coming together to worship and celebrate 200 years,” Collier said. “we’re also trying to bring about change for the next 200 years.”
Ernie Perry, senior minister at Broadway Christian Church, said Broadway started in 1871 as an offshoot of the Main Street Christian Church and is the oldest of Lexington’s Independent Christian churches. He is looking forward to the church’s participation in Restoration 200.
“Jesus’ prayer (was) that his church would be one,” Perry said. “Since that was Jesus’ heart, we thought that should be our heart too.”