Do you remember the first time you got the butterflies?
When you were overcome with admiration and felt at a loss because of the situation?
When I was in middle school, my dad received tickets to the local Washington Wizards basketball game and we had seats on the baseline. It was my first NBA game and I was in awe of the scene around me. Half way through the game, I went up the stands to buy some popcorn. On my way up, I glanced to my right as I was passing a VIP Box. I stopped, mid-step, to grab onto the railing because I thought I might melt into a puddle. I was staring at the face of His Airness, Mr. Michael Jordan. Being a fan was an understatement. I knew I was in the presence of someone extra-ordinary, someone that exemplified perseverance and excellence in the game. I was so overcome with admiration that I forgot why I was going up the stands in the first place and returned to my seat to tell my dad all about seeing Air Jordan, himself.
This past Sunday, I had a similar moment as I ascended the pulpit at Providence Presbyterian Church in Gum Spring, Virginia. This gem of a church sits back in the woods off of Three Chopt Road and has a history as rich as the soil of the area. I arrived several minutes before the service started to take in the interior of the church building, it’s simple, dark wood holding fast to traditions and memories of years ago. Some of the Michael Jordan’s of the religious freedom movement in central Virginia preached at this very spot! It was a real honor and privilege to share from such an historic pulpit where saints from our distinct Virginian, and Presbyterian, history once stood.
My role as Church Relations Officer gives me the distinct privilege to connect congregations with our historic Seminary. That Sunday, I was humbled by the privilege to stand in the very pulpit where many have come before me, many of whom studied and prepared themselves at Union to bring God’s promise of hope into our weary world.
Here is their story, in their own words:
Providence Presbyterian Church, a unique historic site within the Presbytery of the James, has also been one of its best kept secrets. Very few know that this building has the distinction of being the oldest Presbyterian Church in continual use in the Commonwealth of Virginia, indeed, it is the oldest one south or west of Pennsylvania. It is also the only remaining example of the seven “Meeting Houses” built by dissenters of Hanover and Louisa when the Church of England was the established church. In the early 1740’s, Samuel Morris invited a group of people to read the Bible and worship in his home. As this group grew, he began to build “Meeting Houses,” for Bible study. Upon being called to Williamsburg to defend his actions before Governor Gooch, Morris and other dissenters declared themselves “Presbyterians”. Governor Gooch granted them permission to worship in this denomination under the “Act of Toleration”.
Samuel Davies, Apostle to Virginia, arrived in 1747 to minister to this group of Christians in the seven Meeting Houses. Although he was a weak and sickly man, he had a profound impact on the move for religious freedom in Virginia. Patrick Henry was greatly influenced by Davies’ skill as an orator. During his tenure in Virginia, Davies taught slaves to read and sent missionaries to the Indians. Davies only preached at Providence until 1752, when the Presbytery sent John Todd to take over some of his preaching points. Davies remained in Hanover until 1759, when he was asked to take over the Presidency of the College of New Jersey, which would eventually become Princeton University.
John Todd became Providence Church’s first pastor in 1752 and he remained in this position for 41 years, serving until his death in 1793. He became a resident of Louisa County and established one of the first classical schools in the area. This school was a forerunner of Hampden-Sydney College of which Mr. Todd was one of the original trustees. Rev. John Todd was a supporter of the American Revolution and served as the chaplain of the Louisa Militia. It was also during Mr. Todd’s ministry to Providence that the famous evangelist, George Whitefield, preached from the Church’s pulpit.
Rev. Todd’s ministry marked the beginning of the long — and often difficult — history of Providence as a Presbyterian church. It is recorded that the congregation was nearly decimated by the Civil War, but was kept alive by one or two men and a few women. Over the years the size of the congregation varied little, usually hovering around forty members. Being a rural church, it was dependent upon the few residents of the area for its support. In 1947, the “Old Providence Rural Parish” was formed linking four churches under a resident pastor with Union Seminary and West Hanover Presbytery. This plan served the needs of the churches and provided valuable experience for seminary students and students of Presbyterian School of Christian Education. The plan worked so well that it was expanded to include other churches before a shift in Presbytery bounds caused it to be phased out of existence. The first seminary student to serve Providence under the parish plan was privileged to return as the church’s minister forty-six years later!
Providence is thriving and led by Union Presbyterian Seminary alum Rev. Karen Witt. They serve the surrounding community in a variety of ways, including Providence Preschool. For more information about Providence and their rich history, or their preschool program, you can find information on their website:
Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer