SOUTH PLAINS PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH CELEBRATES
199 Years as a Part of the Church of Jesus Christ
This little brick church has been in continuous use since it was built soon after its establishment as a congregation in 1819. In the preface for Through All the Years, The Story of South Plains, we read:...."To look back through 186 years takes a kind of reverse “time-telescope.” As we look at the people who loved the Lord enough to plan, build and care for a church in their community, and at those who followed them, we learn that this bond of faith and devotion has kept its door open during times when less dedicated people would have given up and abandoned this church and its witness".....This story is not about a church building, but about God's faithful people. It is a continuing story, with new chapters being lived by the congregation here in 2017.
Before this church was built, even before there was a Synod of Virginia or Albemarle County, the Scotch-Irish settlers who pushed through the gaps in the Blue Ridge Mountains brought their Presbyterian heritage and erected houses for worship within their home communities. The first was called Mountain Plains.
As early as 1814 Albemarle County had a few Presbyterian churches and interest was discussed by Hanover Presbytery, at a meeting at Walker 's Church (presently,Grace Episcopal) to ordain a young "missionary" pastor from Lexington. The meeting adjourned for the evening to the home of Captain Meriwether (believed to be William Douglas Meriwether of Cloverfields later to be a vital member of the still-to-be-organized South Plains, and "seeds were sown."
This was a preview for another meeting of the presbytery, on October 15, 1819, held at Walker's Church. They adjourned for the evening to the home of John Rogers, who, with his son, Thornton, and Mr. John Kelly, presented a petition for the congregation, known as South Plains, to call a pastor. The petition was approved before the meeting adjourned on October 16, and South Pl
ains became the fifth Presbyterian congregation established in Albemarle County. It was a three-fold congregation with members in Charlottesville, and from an area, known today as Proffit, and the area we now know as Keswick.
The record of the 1819 meeting is the first of few records concerning the establishment and early life of this church. A record of a Session meeting in 1820 lists a Mr.Willson as pastor. In 1824, after Francis Bowman had been called and ordained as pastor, a record of a Session meeting includes a brief five-year history and a membership role, listing the first three Elders and their wives, followed by twenty-nine other names.
Regrettably, no record of the construction of the church building has been found. Some early minutes record a meeting was held “at the church”. The property, previously a part of East Belmont, was given by John Rogers to his son, Thornton, in 1820. Thornton and his wife, Margaret, had a home and a school on the property... he called it ”Keswick.”” The church building remained in the Rogers family until 1871 when it and the land (five acres in all) were deeded to the trustees of the congregation. There have been a variety of opinions about the original construction and later changes to the structure, but documentation for this has not been discovered. Neither has documentation about the building of a manse or when the present house was built.
First Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville grew from the original congregation, and the third community built a church called Bethel, which closed in 1940.
The sanctuary where we worship has been modernized with lighting and heating and a pipe organ, but a look around will reveal well-worn pews, light flooding through clear glass Gothic-style windows and oil lamps still hanging on the walls.
As our eyes move from vaulted wood-paneled ceiling, to the dark wood pulpit and the Celtic cross, we are touched with a sense of history and a sense of being a part of a grand spiritual company of God's people.
We continue to witness to the surrounding communities and reach out in mission commitments to all parts of the world.
We plan and pray for new ways for ministry, including more Christian Education and fellowship space; all the time seeking God's guidance and blessing upon our endeavors. We remember and treasure the past, but we celebrate our future and relish the role we play in the ongoing story of South Plains Presbyterian Church with the building of Kirk Hall.
For more of this story, see: Through All the Years - THE STORY OF SOUTH PLAINS, by Marion Thompson, is available in Kirk Hall.