The First, and extremely important, mention of Methodism in Stephens City comes from the early Valley historian, Samuel Kercheval. He stated that just before the beginning of the Revolutionary War, two traveling strangers sought lodging one weekend at the home of Major Lewis Stephens, the proprietor and founder of this town. Upon hearing they were preachers, Mrs. Stephens sent word through the town, and the next day (Sunday) both men, John Hagerty and Richard Owens, delivered sermons. Kercheval states: "This was doubtless the first Methodist preaching ever heard in our Valley."
As was the custom, and what probably happened here, a "society" was formed very soon. John Wesley, (a priest of the Church of England and founder of Methodism) regarded Methodism as a religious "society" within the Established Church of England. He insisted on this practice in America as well as in England. With local leaders, members of the "society" were organized into "classes" which met regularly in a private home where there was instruction and participation in worship. Attendance was obligatory. As circuits with itinerant preachers were created (Frederick County was in the Berkley Circuit in 1778, served by Rev. Edward Bailey), their "preaching place" in Stephensburg would have been a home or, more than likely, the school house.
However, as Virginia already had an Established Church, the Church of England, for which a County tax was levied, all had to go to the parish church for Baptism, Communion, and marriage. This system continued through the unsettled and tense time of the Revolution.
The separation of the American colonies from England in 1783 led John Wesley to plan for the ordination of his own ministers. In 1784 at the Christmas Conference in Baltimore, the "Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States" was formed and Francis Asbury was consecrated one of its two superintendents. Six months before this, Asbury had preached here for the first time. Following this, according to Asbury's Journal, he had come back sixteen or more times. But on his first visit he had been far from pleased with the "society" in Newtown. He wrote: "I raged and threatened the people." But the next time he came, in 1790, the tone was different. "Here", he wrote, "they have built us a spacious chapel."
Just a year before, Lewis Stephens had conveyed for one shilling (about twenty-five cents) to three trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Stephensburg "one lot of land ... 5 poles in front and 16 poles deep lying on the west side of the great road leading from Stephensburg to Winchester and Beginning 10 poles from the cross street at the upper End of said Town." The trustees were Mr. John Hite, Jr., Mr. William Hughes, and Mr. Benjamin Talbert.
On this site a log meeting house was built. A graveyard lay to the back of it. This meeting house served until 1827. During the Civil War, this sanctuary was used as a hospital to treat wounded soldiers. During Federal occupation, Federal troops burned the parsonage (the pastor's home). The 1827 sanctuary was replaced, on the same site, with a brick church containing a belfry, a high pulpit, and a gallery on three sides. In 1882, when this building was torn down, the foundation of the log church could be seen in the center of the 1827 foundation. The building built in 1882 had a vestibule and a gallery across the back. The pews in this church as well as in the two that preceded it had a center divider - the men sat on the north side and the women on the south side. The cost of the new church was $3000.00.
With the passage of thirty years, this building had become outgrown. When a corner lot less than one hundred feet to the South became available, it was bought by the trustees for $2500.00. The trustees were Mr. L. A. Adams, Mr. H. A. Dinges, Mr. A. H. Guard, Mr. J. A. McCarty, Mr. J. H. Orndorff, Mr. C. O. Rowland, Mr. J. M. Steele, Mr. W. B. Steele and Mr. C. K. Weaver. Occupying the land was a brick and frame one-time tavern which for the past few years had served as a school. On this site in 1913 the present church was erected, The cost of the new church and its furnishings was $12,000.00. Total cost including the land was $14,500.00. Extensive basement excavation in the 1920's added several classrooms, a kitchen, and a social hall.
This building was not enough for future needs. In 1958, thinking of the future, the trustees bought for $4400.00 the property on the North; thus providing the site for an Educational Building. The trustees were Mr. T. A. Grim, Mr. G. W. (Don) Lemley, Mr. Ray D. Rinker, Mr. G. H. Ritenour, Mr. M. S. Barley, Mr. Raymond Sandy, Mr. C. E. Staples, and Mr. Julian D. Steele. The building, built in 1966, provides an office suite, fellowship hall, kitchen, and nine classrooms. The educational building was dedicated on September 26, 1976.
Planning for the complete renovation of the Sanctuary Building was then begun. The renovation was divided into two phases. The first of which was expanding the Sanctuary into the old Sunday School room and nursery area, adding additional matching pews in this area. This work included completely rewiring the building, adding a new heating and air-conditioning system and a new sound system. This phase was completed in November of 1980. Phase two renovated the basement level of this building into six additional Sunday School rooms, a choir room and a kitchenette. Also ramps were added to make the building more accessible to the physically disabled.
|Another vital part of our heritage is that of Orrick Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The A.M.E. Church was founded in 1816 by Richard Allen, from the St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. Suffice to say that Allen and others were not welcome to worship with whites on an equal basis, and began the Bethel Church in Philadelphia, the first A.M.E. congregation. Orrick Chapel was built largely through the efforts and generosity of Mr. Orrick, a slave whose owner allowed him to also earn money. After the Civil War, Orrick was one of the leading African American businessmen in the greater Winchester area. The white framed, green roofed, Orrick Chapel still stands on Mulberry Street, just one block from Stephens City Church. It is owned by the Stone House Foundation of Stephens City.|
Orrick Chapel merged with Stephens City U.M.C. on April 1, 1991, and our fellowship hall (in both the former and brand new educational wings) is dedicated to this congregation.
In the period between 1997 and 2001, the church purchased three lots to expand its parking and office space. In August of 2003, the educational wing, which had been built in 1966, was demolished to make room for a new, completely accessible, 19,000 sq. ft. wing. This additional cost was $2, 290,000. It was completed in October 2004.
In looking back over 200 years, one may visualize many changes: pioneers gathering in log homes for prayer and Bible study with no resident pastor except a circuit rider on horseback... the iron grease lamps in the log church . . . the candles in its brick successor . . . the oil lamps in the chandeliers of the next brick church . . . the very lovely tiered brass acetylene chandeliers that preceded the electric lighting in the present sanctuary. One may actually see the changes in pulpit furnishings, for we still have the chair in which Francis Asbury is said to have sat in the log meeting house; a chair from the pulpit, furnishings of the 1827 brick church; the complete set of pulpit furniture from the 1882 church, and, of course, the furniture in the present sanctuary.
As we consider the rich heritage of Methodism here, we find inspiration to more effectively meet the future challenge God is presenting to us to make new disciples, and to serve the Stephens City community as it changes.