By Ammie Ruddle
Three churches came together Sept. 25 in Upper Tract to celebrate 225 years of Lutheran ministry in the county.
Parishioners from Calvary, Faith and St John’s Lutheran joined Mt. Hope Lutheran Church to celebrate the anniversary.
Bishop Matthew L. Riegel gave a sermon to nearly 150 parishioners in attendance.
Previous reverends who assisted in the service were Neal Weltzin, pastor of Mt. Hope and the Franklin parish from 1990-1997, Mary Poston, pastor of Mt. Hope and the Franklin parish from 1998-2003, Ben Erzkus, who is the son of Pastor Charles Erzkus, pastor of Mt. Hope from 1978-1990, and Sherri Schafer, the third great-granddaughter of Pastor George Schmucker, who was the resident pastor of Old Dutch Church from 1841-1879.
Originally Mallow Church, then Old Dutch Church, Mt. Hope Lutheran Church is one of the oldest Lutheran churches in West Virginia. It is the oldest continuously operating Lutheran church in Pendleton County.
According to Jason Felici, one of the current pastors of Mt. Hope Lutheran Church, “In the year 1797 a man by the name of Issac Westfall deeded 1.84 acres of ground to the joint use of the Lutherans and German Reforms.”
Felici provided documentation about the history of the Lutheran ministry in the county. It explained that on the plot of ground there was already a log church that was being used for worship services by the people of the area.
In the journals of the pioneering Lutheran minister and missionary, the Rev. Paul Henkel, it is indicated that he preached at the old log church at least three times, Dec. 3 and 4 in 1808, April 11, 1810, and Aug. 19, 1810.
Currently, the president of the Mt. Hope congregation has a written record of baptisms, confirmations and communicants beginning in 1814 going through the year 1849. Much of the record is written in German.
According to the document, the church was served by traveling ministers. These ministers were known as “circuit riders” and the entries in the church record were made by them.
These documents and more were provided by the Pendleton County Historical Society and were displayed for all that attended the anniversary celebration.
Jess Felici, the other pastor of Mt. Hope Lutheran Church, said, “There were many generations of people there. The youngest member was two years old while the oldest was 103.”
The pastors provided a “blended” service. Jason Felici said, “We provided a service using what would have been done and said in the 1800s as well as what is currently used and said.”
One of the activities parishioners could take part in during the celebration was a tour of the cemetery, where early settlers of the county as well as former pastors and parishioners were laid to rest.
After the service, everyone gathered for a picnic to discuss more about the ministry’s history in the county and enjoy cake.
Jess Felici described the event as a “beautiful celebration that felt like coming home.”