King, Charles Leonidas (1892–1982)

By: M. Douglas Harper, Jr.

Type: Biography

Published: March 1, 1995

Updated: April 11, 2017

Charles Leonidas King, Presbyterian minister, was born near Covington, Georgia, on November 9, 1892, the son of James Warren and Mary Alice (Livingston) King. He completed the eighth grade in his rural school and then learned Latin on his own so he could be admitted to Davidson College on probation. The citation that accompanied the honorary doctor of divinity degree granted him by Davidson in 1979 noted that "Davidson took him on speculation," and then adds, "No college ever speculated to better advantage." King graduated from Davidson in 1914 and entered Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, in 1915. He was granted the bachelor of divinity degree in 1918 and was awarded the Moses D. Hoge Fellowship for a year of additional study at Union. In 1919 King was ordained to the ministry by the East Hanover Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church, U.S., having been called to become pastor of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia, the largest congregation in the presbytery. King was married to Annie McDade in Raleigh, North Carolina, on June 21, 1921; the couple had two children. While serving at Grace Covenant, King completed his studies at Hampden-Sydney College and received a doctorate of divinity in 1924. Under his ministry, Grace Covenant Church became one of the six largest congregations in the denomination.

On January 3, 1932, the First Presbyterian Church, Houston, called King to become its pastor. The oldest church in Houston, First Presbyterian was founded on March 31, 1839, by Rev. William Youel Allen. In 1932, however, it was divided by issues that had led to the resignation of King's predecessor. Giving was inadequate to meet expenses, and the congregation had incurred a large debt. To add to the difficulties, on September 10, 1932, the church building was destroyed by fire. King served as pastor of First Presbyterian Church until September 1, 1961. Under his leadership the new church was completed by 1933 with the proceeds of the fire insurance. The congregation later sold the land and rebuilt on South Main, completing construction in 1948. By 1954 the church was debt-free. The congregation more than doubled in size during King's pastorate and by the end of his pastorate the budget had increased tenfold. The congregation include many Houston business and civic leaders, among them Leon Jaworski.

King was also a leader in the larger church. In 1944 he was elected moderator of the General Assembly, making him in 1944–45 the highest elected official of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.; at fifty-two he was one of the youngest persons ever to hold that office. Austin College awarded him an honorary LL. D. degree in 1946. King also served as moderator of both the Synod of Texas and of the Presbytery of Brazos. He was committed to evangelism and to building new congregations throughout the Houston area. He was instrumental in developing some thirteen new churches during the time that he was pastor of First Presbyterian Church. King's lifelong commitment to the growth of the Presbyterian Church was honored by the Brazos Presbytery when it established the Charles L. King Fund for Church Extensions.

King also served the Presbyterian Church, U.S., through various committees of the General Assembly. He was active in seeking union with the United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., though he died just before that union was accomplished in 1983. In 1937 he was a delegate to the Edinburgh Conference on Faith and Order and was also one of the denominational representatives to the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. He was a member of the committee that in 1962 produced a "Brief Statement of Faith" for the denomination. He was chairman of the board of trustees of the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Austin, Texas. King was also instrumental in leading the Synod of Texas to purchase the ranch near Kerrville owned by Dan Moran, president of Continental Oil Company. Mo-Ranch, a spiritual and conference center, became an important center for Texas Presbyterianism. First Presbyterian Church gave the money to construct the Charles L. King Dining Hall at Mo-Ranch; the hall was dedicated in 1986.

In 1960 King accepted an invitation to teach homiletics one day a week at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. In February 1961 he resigned his pastorate; his last sermon as pastor of First Presbyterian Church, which was also the first service to be televised, occurred on August 27, 1961. In September he began a three-year term as visiting professor of homiletics at Austin Seminary. He was granted the official status of honorable retirement by the Brazos Presbytery in 1964. In his retirement he traveled extensively and served as a visiting pastor and lecturer. His last service to the General Assembly came in 1966, when he served as chairman of a committee that was to visit the Synod of Mississippi and attempt to deal with the difficulties the synod was then experiencing. In 1971 he moved to Bayou Manor, a Presbyterian facility for older persons. He served there as unofficial chaplain and frequently conducted worship services. He also preached regularly until his death. The only book he ever published was a series of lecture-sermons entitled The Holy Spirit in the Bible; the lectures were delivered in 1977 and 1978. He died on January 27, 1982, and was buried in Houston.

Judy King, Except the Lord Build...The Sesquicentennial History of First Presbyterian Church, Houston, Texas, 1839–1989 (Houston, 1989). Ministerial Directory of the Presbyterian Church, U.S., 1967.

  • Religion
  • Presbyterian
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

M. Douglas Harper, Jr., “King, Charles Leonidas,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 07, 2022,

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March 1, 1995
April 11, 2017

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