Virginia’s first Moravian congregation celebrated 160 years of worship in the Blue Ridge Mountains earlier this winter. Following a year-long celebration that included special services and an anniversary challenge to raise enough money to sand and refinish their sanctuary’s floor, Mount Bethel Moravian Church in Cana, Va. celebrated their 160th year on Sunday, November 18.
A long history in the Old Dominion
In 1833, Brother Van Neman Zevely, a layperson from “The United Brethrens Home Mission Society of North Carolina,” began making trips into the Blue Ridge mountain areas of southern Virginia, once known as “The Hollow.” Brother Zevely distributed religious tracts, spent most of his time teaching and preaching and soon won the hearts of most of the mountain people. One of his regular meeting places was called Volunteer Gap, later to become Mount Bethel. His work at Volunteer Gap was very fruitful, and the people of the area later petitioned the conference at Salem, asking for a missionary to preach and instruct the youth on a regular basis.
In 1852 the local people erected the first Moravian Church in Virginia with financial assistance from the Moravians in Salem. The new church was consecrated on November 24, 1852; on the following day 37 founding members of the Mount Bethel congregation gathered for a service of Holy Communion with Bishop John G. Herman.
The next year, the Rev. Jacob Siewers became Mount Bethel’s first pastor. He lived in the church building until the mission house was completed in June, 1855. An addition was built to the church in 1903 for a school. Teachers were sent from Salem to help the local teachers with summer and winter school.
In 1920, Rev. C. D. Crouch came to Mount Bethel and soon persuaded the people to build a new church—the one where the Mount Bethel congregation worships today. On August 25, 1923, the service for laying the cornerstone of the new sanctuary was held. The present building, near the site of the first meeting place, was consecrated in 1924. In 1927 Rev. Crouch encouraged the Mount Bethel congregation to also build a new mission house with help from his Salem friends.
The need for more space was becoming evident by the end of 1966, so the congregation decided to build a new wing to the church for classrooms. The basement was finished for a fellowship hall and kitchen and the church was bricked.
Several years later, the congregation decided to sell the old Mission House and build a new parsonage across the road from the church. The new parsonage was finished and dedicated on August 11, 1974. In recent years, additional changes have been made to modernize the church to better accommodate the growing congregation.
Throughout the years, Mount Bethel Moravian Church has been a center for worship, study, fellowship and an outreach to the community. With the help of God the Mount Bethel congregation is eagerly anticipating the coming years serving its southern Virginia corner of “The Hollow.” ν
Bonnie S. Ayers, member of Mount Bethel Moravian Church, Cana, Virginia. Mount Bethel is part of the Mount Ararat Regional Conference of Churches.
From the March 2013 Moravian Magazine