Reaching Out
A History of Elon Presbyterian Church
Homecoming Sunday, September 27, 1998

The current Elon Presbyterian Church building is the third chapel constructed on the site since Presbyterians migrated to Amherst County more than 150 years ago. Through the years this small plot of earth and the chapels that have been constructed on it have been a central part of the Elon community and the lives of the people that have been associated with it.

The land on which the current Elon Presbyterian Church is located was originally deeded by the King of England before the American Revolution. It is recorded that this land was owned by John Camm at his death in 1825. Upon his death his estate was divided into three parcels. One of these parcels was deeded to Benjamin A. Donald and a second parcel was acquired in 1828 by Benjamin Donald from B. Robert Camm.

In 1833 Benjamin Donald sold his two tracts to Dr. David Patteson and his wife, Elizabeth, of Lynchburg. There was no indication, in the plat, of a church standing on the land at this time. In 1838, however, when Dr. Patteson and his wife sold 692 acres to W. O. Harding they made specific exception of 1.25 acres of land on which the Pedlar Fork Church was erected. On June 20, 1843, it is recorded that Dr. David Patteson and Elizabeth Patteson deeded the 1.25 acres on which the Pedlar Fork Church was already erected to seven trustees of the church for the sum of $5.00. The small frame structure, which according to oral history, “leaked when it rained” was deeded specifically:
to preach and expound God’s Holy Word therein and also hold the same as a house or place of worship for the use of the members of the said Presbyterian Church

Presbytery records for this time period do not indicate a Presbyterian church existing in Elon. However, in November of 1843 a missionary project of the Lynchburg district, approved by the West Hanover Presbytery, sent the Rev. John Shepperson to preach at the Elon church.

In 1856 as a result of continued growth a second structure was built on the same location. This church was known as the Red Brick Church. The chapel was constructed of bricks molded from the red clay on the property and had three plain windows on each side and two separate doors in the front. The interior was fashioned from plaster adorned with ornate hand-hewn woodwork. The high-back pews which served four generations were made of kiln-dried oak and were constructed by Daniel and Henry Keaton. The middle section of long pews was flanked by shorter pews on each side. The church was heated by a wood stove located in the middle of the sanctuary.

Through the years, the church has served many religious denominations in the Elon community. Being the first church built in Elon, it became a union church used by all denominations.

Although there are no existing records to verify when the congregation was organized into a Presbyterian church, tradition contends it was in 1873. The first Presbyterian minister, according to church records, was the Rev. David Tease, who moved to Elon in 1870. He preached at the church periodically until his death in 1894.

The Rev. Samuel P. Massie served the field of churches at Elon, Monroe, and Amherst from 1894 until 1902. There are no records of this period.
On April 16, 1902 at West Hanover Presbytery meeting at Orange, VA it is recorded that:
The Stated Clerk and Rev. George H. Ray were appointed a committee to investigate the history of “Elon” Church and determine the status among the Churches of the Presbytery, the records not being clear as to whether it has ever been formally organized as a Church
Then, at Buckingham, on August 14, 1902 it is recorded that:
Presbytery approved of Rev. George H. Ray’s action in organizing Church at Elon and ordered that the Church of Elon be entered on our roll of Churches.

Elon Presbyterian church made its first report in the 1903 General Assembly minutes. The report stated the church had:
no elders, 1 deacon, 15 added on examination, 2 on certificate, 22 total communicants, 5 adult baptisms, no infant baptisms, 4 baptized non-communicants, $12 home missions – local, $30 pastor’s salary, $300 congregational expense . . . .
During this time the Rev. George H. Ray served as the stated supply minister.
The Rev. J. A. Thomas was appointed by Presbytery in 1914 to serve the field of churches at Elon, Monroe, and Amherst. The Rev. Thomas through extensive evangelism built up the membership in all the churches he served, making it necessary to divide the field and secure another minister for Elon Presbyterian Church.

In 1919 the Rev. Clyde J. Walsh became the pastor of the Elon church. He was deeply interested in the young people and under his leadership the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts were organized as well as the first youth group of the church. In 1920 Mr. O. P. Morris donated land on Elon Road for the construction of the first church manse. The construction of the manse was completed in 1924 and the Rev. Walsh became its first occupant. It was also in 1924 that “the Hut” was built by members of the church. “The Hut” was a detached building used by the men’s Bible class.

The Rev. Jonathan Edwards succeeded the Rev. Walsh in 1926 as the pastor. The Rev. Edwards only served the Elon church for three years, but during that time he distinguished himself as a speaker and organizer.

The Rev. J. Hoge Smith came to the field in 1929 and remained until 1941. It was during his pastorate that three Sunday School classrooms were built on the rear of the church. The Rev. Smith’s wife, Virginia organized the first Christian Endeavor to serve the youth of the community and was a leader for the Women’s Auxiliary. During Mr. Smith’s ministry, with influence from Miss Florence Lewis, Indian mission work was started. Services for the Indian mission were held in an apple packing house until a chapel was built in 1941 on Cedar Gate Road. The simple single-room frame building was named Smyrna Mission. Miss Lewis worked with the Smyrna Mission until she left to continued mission work in Africa.

From 1941 until 1942 the Elon church was served by Mr. William G. Walker, a supply pastor. While Mr. Walker was with the church he continued to work with the mission church and instituted a Bible School program.

In 1942 the Rev. George Bird Talbot and his wife Mary Alice were forced to come home from their mission field in China because of World War II. The Rev. Talbot assumed the leadership of the church form 1942 until his return to China in 1947. While the Rev. Talbot was with the church, significant accomplishments were made both in the life and home of the church. In 1942 the first church bulletins were printed and in 1947 the church became self supporting. A cement front porch with white columns and one Sunday school classroom, later to become the church study and since replaced by the fellowship hall, was added to the church in 1943.

From 1947 to 1951 the church was without an ordained minister but was fortunate in having Mr. Haywood Wooldridge, a Methodist layman. During this time the floor in the sanctuary deteriorated and began to give way causing the church to require extensive repair. It was decided to make additions to the church along with the repair work at this time. A new left wing was built which housed three classrooms, a basement, and a kitchen. Central heating, a communion table, a pulpit stand, and new pews were added. Four stained-glass memorial windows were given during this period. Ground improvements also took place. They were the laying of sidewalks, graveling of the parking area and the planting of shrubbery.

In 1951 the Rev. Ralston R. Ramsey assumed the pastorate. In 1952 Mt. Carmel Presbyterian Church was merged with the Elon Presbyterian Church enlarging the membership by 20 to 25 members. A Hammond electric organ was also added to enrich the music education of the church in that year. The Rev. Ramsey stayed with the church until 1954. During his stay the organization of the church was enhanced by the adoption of the rotary system for the election of elders and deacons.

After the Rev. Ramsey left the church had various supply ministers until 1955 when the Rev. Charles E. Sutton began to serve the church. Under his leadership increased interest was shown in the Indian mission work. In 1956 the Appomattox Presbytery gave the Mt. Carmel Church building to the Elon Church and a second Indian chapel was ministered to by the members of the church. The Rev. Sutton placed emphasis on the church school. Interest was renewed in the youth programs of the church, the church school educational programs were enlarged, and interdenominational Bible School programs were offered. It was during the Rev. Sutton’s pastorate that the church assumed partial support of a missionary family. The Rev. Sutton left the church in 1961.

In 1962 the Rev. J. Renwick Kennedy came to our church. The Rev. Kennedy continued with the church school education and youth work. He encouraged youth participation in various summer camps. In 1964 the original manse and property on Elon Road were sold and a new manse was constructed on Camden Drive in Elon. In that year the Rev. Kennedy married Sarah Webb of Lynchburg and they became the first occupants of the new manse. The Rev. Kennedy resigned in 1968.

The church was administered to by supply ministers until 1969 when the Rev. Harold V. Kuhn assumed the pastorate. The Rev. Kuhn was with the church until 1974. On July 28, 1969, the church was badly damaged by fire. The basement in the left wing was gutted and the main floor, sanctuary and other rooms were damaged by water, heat, and smoke. Services were held for a short while in the Elon Elementary School and then later in the American Legion Home while the church was being reconstructed. At this time the Red Brick Church which had served the community for so many years was razed and a new larger sanctuary with a fellowship hall and kitchen in the basement was built, fashioned after the original church. The left wing and other Sunday school rooms were renovated. The new sanctuary was dedicated in 1970. A large popular beam that had been saved from the 1951 church renovation by members of the church and formed into a cross which was placed in front of the new sanctuary. The destruction of the Red Brick Church by fire was not the only dark thing that took place in the life of the church during this time. As happens in the best of loving families, the church experienced turmoil within its membership and the church rolls declined greatly. The Rev. Kuhn left the church in 1974.

Following a number of supply ministers the Rev. Wayne Meredith became the pastor of the Elon church in February 1976. Under the leadership of the Rev. Meredith the membership of the church was rebuilt and a healing process took place. Through the guidance of the Rev. Meredith and his wife, Laura, the musical ministry of the church was furthered. In 1983 the aesthetic beauty of the church was enhanced by the addition of a white steeple with a carillon. The Rev. Meredith remained with the church until 1984.

From 1984 until January 1986 when the Rev. Barry Tucker assumed the pastorate, the church had several supply ministers including the Rev. Dr. Robert Wilson. The Rev. Tucker moved the church into the age of technology through the purchase and use of a computer. Renovation of the old downstairs fellowship hall to make additional Sunday school rooms and the dedication of the new fellowship hall on July 15, 1990 enriched the church facility. The church added a daily preschool program to its ministry in 1991 and continued to upgrade this program yearly. In 1995 the Elon Presbyterian Church Cemetery, whose administrative duties had been carried out by a committee appointed by the Board of Deacons and was financially independent of the church, was absorbed into the church budget and management. The Perpetual Care fund established by the Cemetery Committee continued, but was now under the church’s administration. In 1996 the hymnals were replaced to provide for the continual update of the music ministry to the church.

The Pedlar Fork Church that “leaked when it rained,” the Red Brick Church with its hand-make bricks, and the present Elon Presbyterian Church have been a religious and social focal point in the Elon community for 155 years. The history of the church is not finished. It will continue to reach out in order to minister to the lives of those that are associated with it.

Current Elon Presbyterian Church History (1998-2011)
Twenty years of Renewal and Growth
Our Impact: On the World

Elon Presbyterian has indeed remained “a religious and social focal point in the Elon community” in the last twenty years, and has expanded its vision and endeavors to do God’s work far beyond the community, the state, and even our nation’s borders. Who would have dreamed, in 1883, that the small frame church that “leaked when it rained” would one day be responsible for building and furnishing churches as far away as Nepal, Burma, and Mexico?

In March of 1997, Elon Presbyterian had truly been blessed financially. The loan for the construction of the new fellowship hall had been repaid: in almost half the expected time! The church then resolved to undertake a mission project: the building of a new church in Nepal. Throughout 1998, the congregation came to realize how fortunate we are to be free to worship as we please, as the building of the Lamahi Church was postponed, and its pastor, Ram Bahadur Chhetri and his family fled in hiding from the Maoist movement to the jungles for months at a time.

In January of 1999, an anonymous donation made it possible for the church to support the World Help mission and not only build another church in India, but to also supply Bibles for the congregation.

EPC moved forward yet again in July of 2000, this time to provide not just funding for World Missions, but physical labor and aid as well. Wendy Campbell Barnette, Jennifer Moore, David Tucker, Jonathan Tucker, and Kathryn Tucker all traveled to Mexico as ambassadors of EPC to share the Gospel and serve some of the people there. Kathryn and Sue Godsey traveled to Moyobamba, Peru, in 2001. Kathryn acted as an interpreter for a medical team, and Sue participated in the construction of a mission school. Kathryn also returned in the summers of 2002 and 2003, again acting as interpreter for a mission team from Alamance Presbyterian Church, near Greensboro, NC.

The congregation also funded construction of a new church in Myanmar (Burma) in 2002-2003. The Thitkaung Church in the Karen Hill tribe was competed in May of 2003.

In 2005, Kathryn Tucker was joined by other members of our congregation in her mission endeavors. In August, Kirstin Herman, Mark Newman, Frances Pfister, and Benjamin Tucker traveled along with her to Jimenez, Mexico. And in July of 2007, EPC sent its biggest mission crew ever to Nicaragua. Kirstin Herman, Russell Robertson, Benjamin Tucker, Amber Zubrinitz, John Robertson, David Tucker, and McKinley Tucker, all joined Kathryn to travel to the mission of La Vida Joven, a youth retreat and working coffee farm. There they planted coffee, built fences, worked construction, and conducted a four day children’s outreach program to bring the Gospel to the lives of these Nicaraguan children.

As well, EPC has taken an active part in the Operation Christmas Child Program sponsored by Franklin Graham and the Samaritan’s Purse ministry. Beginning in 1998, EPC has faithfully filled shoeboxes every year with small toys, school supplies, toiletries, candies, and other goodies for children world-wide who receive no other remembrance at Christmas. To date, we have sent over 500 boxes around the world, and this ministry has grown into a valuable part of our Discovery Club for our children, helping them to understand how much more they have than many children world-wide. 

Our Impact: On Our Community

Though our mission work world-wide has been a huge part of EPC’s endeavors throughout the past twenty years, we have also been working hard at making an impact in our community here in Central Virginia. Special offerings are received annually to assist with the Presbyterian Home in Lynchburg, which offers residential care and family services to children from troubled families in the area. EPC has also been an active supporter of the Helping Hands Ministry of Lynchburg, which provides food, clothing, housing and medical care to needy families in the area. Our Elon Preschool ministry for three and four year old children is now in its seventeenth year, with Anne Burch as our faithful teacher and Kim Hedrick as her aide. Our facility is also used by the local Boy Scout Troop 37, which meets at EPC weekly. Habitat for Humanity, Volunteer Emergency Families for Children, the Gideon Ministry, and many other local charities and ministries have all benefited from help by EPC throughout the last two decades.

Since 1999, EPC has also sponsored one couple a year in attending The Family Life Marriage Conference, sponsored by the Campus Crusade for Christ every March at the Hotel Roanoke. Jerry and Anne Camden were our church’s first lucky winners of this weekend getaway, which focuses on the biblical principles that build a strong marriage and strengthens family relationships. Since then, seven other couples have been treated to this worthwhile conference. Marriages and families have been made stronger for it.

Another important ministry that was begun in September of 1999 was the addition of a Youth Director to EPC. Tom Minturn, a student at Liberty University, was named our first Youth Director, and he continued in this post until graduating in the spring and returning home to West Virginia. At his departure, the church hired Glen Shelton in September of 2000, a teacher and local singing celebrity known for his folk and gospel music, to fill the position. Glen has been a faithful and dedicated minister to the youth of not just our church, but our community as well, and his ministry has brought many teenagers closer to Christ.

September of 2004 brought another exciting community outreach to our church: the formation of our Discovery Club! Discovery Club is a youth ministry designed for children from kindergarten-grade 5. David and Janet Kester were appointed as our Children’s Directors, and implemented a fun filled but Christian values-based curriculum into the Wednesday afternoon meetings. After the Kesters moved, Sarah Camden cheerfully shouldered the burden of the directorship of this important children’s ministry, and through it we have brought many children into a church for the first time in their lives. As Discovery Club begins its fourth year, we are grateful to all those who give of their time (and patience!) in teaching, providing crafts and games, and cooking dinner for the thirty-some children who gather every Wednesday. 

Our Impact: Within Our Own Walls

Many changes have taken place within the church building itself the past twenty years. In January of 1998, for example, our upstairs Sunday school room became a “Bible tree house” complete with jungle vines, a lake, mountains, and various jungle beast lurking about. Lynda Criswell enlisted the aid of her niece, Justine Criswell, and the rest of her family in making this amazing transformation, and the room remains as a favorite among our children.

An equally amazing transformation occurred in our infant nursery in June of 2003 . Under the direction of Sue Godsey, and with help from Anne Camden, Marty Hallberg, Sarah Camden, Henry Allen, and Lynda Criswell, our nursery became the world fresh and new, as seen through the eyes of Noah and all the animals from the arc. The soothing blue sky, fuzzy white clouds, and triumphant rainbow bring this story of God’s promise to protect our world to our very youngest Christians.

Our sanctuary also received a significant “facelift” in the spring of 2002. An extension to the Chancel area, built by Henry and H.L. Allen, was put into place. Additional wiring and sound equipment was put into place, and the carpet and pew cushions replaced. In addition, our parking lot was expanded to provide more handicapped parking with easy access to the fellowship hall.

On March 4, 2001, a surprise was waiting for our faithful choir director, Jack Criswell. The church had just purchased a new grand piano, and in the service to dedicate it, Jack was also the recipient of a surprise reception honoring his many years in our music ministry. Jack was first called to EPC in 1984, to serve as our organist, and took over the direction of the choir after Susan Tyler resigned from the post a year later. Since then, he has been the mainstay of our musical ministry, and visitors often comment on what a wonderful choir we have. EPC is truly blessed to have Jack in its service.

And we are equally blessed to have his wife, Lynda Criswell! Not only does she add to the vocal talent of our choir, but she has served as our Sunday School Superintendent for eight years. When Irene Shepherd resigned from this tremendously important office of our church in 1999, after sixteen long and faithful years of service, Lynda stepped in to the position, and has led our Sunday School and Christian Education Committee with patience and Christian dedication ever since.

Throughout the last twenty years, our spiritual leader and pastor has remained the ever faithful (and wisecracking!) Barry Tucker. Barry has provided EPC with continuity with his dedicated service and leadership, and the church has held two surprise “Barry Tucker Days” to celebrate his service here. The first occurred in January of 2001, which marked Barry’s fifteenth year as pastor at EPC. The second occurred in March of 2006, to celebrate his twenty year anniversary at the church.

One last, and very, very special, person needs to be mentioned in the current history of EPC. The treasurer of our church for the twenty year time period encompassed in this history, as well as the THIRTY years before, was the ever faithful and accurate Houston Morris. After an incredible fifty years of serving as our treasurer, Houston retired from this post, turning it over to Vickie Oblinger. On July 1, 2007, the church proclaimed a “Houston Morris Day” where Mr. Morris was recognized for his long, LONG period of service to the church. A plaque engraved with his name and dates of service was presented, and during the luncheon that followed, Mr. Morris had a chance to reminisce and be congratulated by many members of the congregation.

The last twenty years have brought many changes to Elon Presbyterian Church, both inside and out! With God’s help, our church has expanded not just within our own walls, but, in mission to our community, and mission to our world. And, with His continued help and guidance, we will continue to grow and spread the Word of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the future.