Saturday, February 20, 2016

Brethren in the Shenandoah Valley

As a child, I attended the Church of the Brethren, primarily with my grandparents. While I do not associate with the church as an adult, I recognize the impact it has had on my family history. My great, great grandfather, Peter Swope Thomas, was the first pastor of the Harrisonburg First Church of the Brethren. Through many church documents I have been able to get to know him. This post includes a little history on the Brethren in the Harrisonburg, VA and surrounding area.

History of the Harrisonburg First Church of the Brethren
1900: Ten brethren, living in Harrisonburg, request preaching services. Cooks Creek, Greenmount and Mill Creek Congregations jointly sponsor the development of a new congregation in Harrisonburg, VA.
1901: The first Sunday School and worship services are held on June 9, with P.S. Thomas in charge of the service and J.M Kagey in charge of the preaching.
1906: A new sanctuary is constructed at a cost of $15,000. The new sanctuary is first used for worship in December 9.
1909: Cooks Creek, Greenmount and Mill Creek congregations release control of the Harrisonburg congregation. P.S. Thomas, who has served as pastor since 1901, remains pastor of the new congregation.
 In 1908 the district of the Brethren Church that included Bridgewater and Harrisonburg areas had about 250 – 300 members, five meetinghouses and four Sunday schools with an enrollment of 300 scholars. The ministry consisted of J.M Kagey, P.S. Thomas, S.I. Bowman and S.D. Zigler. I am the great granddaughter of P.S. Thomas and distantly related to the other three.

The Beaver Creek Church. . as written in 1908By Eld. H. G. Miller.
[Hiram G. Miller was born May 29, 1852; joined the church September 9, 1877; united in marriage with Julia A. Wright on November 7, 1877; elected minister April 4, 1885; and ordained elder on August 1, 1896. Eld. Miller has served the church as moderator of District Meeting and as a member of Standing Committee at Annual Meeting at different times. At present he is a member
of the Board of Trustees for Bridgewater College and he also serves on the visiting committee for the same institution. The discipline of the Beaver Creek church, of which he is senior elder, is favorably known.]
" Doubtless the Beaver Creek and Cooks Creek churches were organized near the same time, but when the division was agreed upon is not known. Bro. John Brower was the first minister located in this section. He was followed by John Wine, Joseph Miller, Martin Miller, George Wine and the Thomases. Martin Miller was ordained to the eldership on April 5, 1855, and Daniel Thomas on December 5, 1862. Jacob Thomas was elected minister, April 5,

The Greenmount Church.
This church has been closely associated with the Linville Creek church in missionary endeavor from the time of its organization. It has a strong membership, but it is so centrally located that the church could not easily be divided to advantage. However, it makes good use of its ministry and Sunday-school workers by assigning them duty at outlying points. Bro. P. I. Garber was chosen minister March 25, 1910, and Bro. Daniel B. Garber was elected June 13, 1912. These, with Jacob A. Garber, I. C. Myers, B. B. Miller J. W. Wampler, John H. Kline and I. W. Miller, make a strong ministerial force.
Eld. J. M. Kagey gives the following information regarding his home church, Cooks Creek:
" Since the organization of the Harrisonburg church and a portion of our territory falling to Beaver Creek church, we have two hundred and sixty members in the home church and about one hundred members in the West Virginia mission field. At each of the four houses of worship at home we have an active Sunday school, and we have preaching services at six different places in West Virginia.
" The present ministry is composed of Elders J. M. Kagey and S. I. Bowman, with Brethren B. S. Landis, J. H. Bowman and L. S. Miller."

The Harrisonburg Church.
Eld. P. S. Thomas, son of Eld. Jacob and Elizabeth Swope Thomas, was born April 12, 1857. He lived in the Beaver Creek church, where he was baptized in August, 1889. On October 11, 1891, he married Elizabeth Ellen McLaughlin. In May, 1892, he moved to the Cooks Creek church, where he was elected deacon, chosen minister, and ordained elder. He assisted in the mission work of
that church in the West Virginia mission field, and when the mission was opened in Harrisonburg he took an active part in it. When the Harrisonburg church was organized he was elected its elder, which position he has held to
the present. In addition, he is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Orphans' Home, and its secretary, and also secretary of the General Child Rescue Committee.

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