MOUNT PISGAH FROM A 1984 PERSPECTIVE
From a dusty brown box, two hand written drafts of the story of our church were created by Miss Alice Newland (August 11, 1915 to August 13, 2007). They contained the names of people, places, tragedies, successes and events that described our journey up to a time where we were 25-year ago. Enjoy a peek backward from 1845 to discover how our present church was created from the strong foundation laid by our forefathers.
As Mt. Pisgah United Methodist Church prepares to celebrate the two-hundredth anniversary of the Methodist Church in America, she celebrates her own one-hundred and thirty-ninth birthday. (1984) Mt. Pisgah, located at 1100 Mt. Pisgah Drive in the village of Midlothian, is a ministerial station of the Richmond District of the Virginia United Methodist Conference. With a membership of 615 and an annual budget of $65,000, Mt. Pisgah has experienced great growth in all facets of her program in recent years. There are 250 persons enrolled in eleven church school classes. Membership in the United Methodist Women’s Society is 75 enrolled in four circles. Fifty men are active in the United Methodist Men’s Club. The choir of 26 members shares in all worship services. In addition to the minister, there are four full or part-time employees.
In 1984, because of this recent growth, Mt. Pisgah embanked on a $600,000–plus building program. The new sanctuary, to be completed in the winter of 1985, has a seating capacity of 350. It is an octagonal brick structure adjacent the building whose corner stone was laid April 18, 1927, and which was the sanctuary for the congregation until 1985.
Mount Pisgah has had its ups and downs. One time it went down in a pit and on another occasion it went up in smoke. It has been attacked by the devil and termites. This is from the quarterly conference records of March 10, 1883. “But there is somewhat against us; we lack spiritual power. We are not controlling the morals of the community as it is our duty and privilege. We think the greatest drawback to the circuit is the lukewarm condition into which many members have fallen. Alas! Alas!”
The new building will be the fourth sanctuary for the Mount Pisgah congregation. However, the first meetings of the church were probably under the trees on a tract of land near the intersection of Old Buckingham Road and Route 60. There is a cemetery which still belongs to Mt. Pisgah at this location now. On May 30, 1845, Nicholas Mills, President of the Old English Coal Company, gave to the church this property on Falling Creek Hill. Benjamin Horner, trustee, received the deed. Sometime after May 30, 1845, the original church was built on this site. The church is often referred to as Old English Church; perhaps because its membership was made up largely of English miners who came to work in the Midlothian coal mines.
The building was a small - probably forty by twenty feet – frame building set on a foundation of local stone piled at the four corners. Some of these stones can still be seen at the site. Services were held in this building until 1877 when a serious cave in of the ground under the church, perhaps from a mine tunnel, caused the congregation to abandon the building.
The second church was erected at the present location on land given to the church by George H. and John W. Jewett. The corner stone was laid June 11, 1878 by the Midlothian Masonic Lodge 211. There is some difference in the record as to when this building was dedicated; however, this is from the Quarterly Conference Minutes of March, 1894. “At Midlothian we are finishing up our church which has so long been unfinished and we hope to dedicate it early in May.” Sixteen years after it was begun this building was dedicated.
This was a frame building, approximately the same size as the 1927 brick building still standing. There was a belfry with a rope hanging near the front door. Small boys loved to jump and grab the rope to ring the bell. Inside there were rows of pews on each side and one down the middle. On either side there were large wood-burning stoves. The lighting was from oil lamps. In the early 1920’s, members of the church excavated a basement under the north side of the church and a coal-burning hot air furnace was installed.
In 1925, an education building was added to the back of the church. The education building was finished, but had not been occupied when on July 10, 1925, that building and the entire church were burned to the ground. The only furnishing saved from the fire is the picture of an early church conference which now hangs in the north wing of the 1927 building. That picture was out of the church for repairs to the frame at the time. The cause of the fire was thought to be spontaneous combustion from oil soaked rags that had been used to finish the floors.
Here was Mt. Pisgah, July 11, 1925. The church has 115 members, no building, no insurance, and a debt of $9,000. It is no wonder that as some fought the fire, sobs and moans could be heard coming from others as they watched work, sacrifice and memories go up in smoke.
There was confusion and discussion and some dissension about what to do next. However, at a meeting called by Mr. O. B. Watlington, the Sunday School Superintendent, at the high school, the congregation decided to rebuild on the same site. Until the building could be completed, the congregation met for worship in the high school. The corner stone was laid by the Midlothian Masonic Lodge 211 on Easter Monday, April 18, 1927.
So church members went to work on another building fund - pies, cakes, supper, quilts, and pledges. Friends of the church and of church members, other churches, businesses all contributed to the building fund. Thalhimers replaced, without charge, the window shades they had furnished in the burned building. Five hundred dollars was raised by people who: bought” bricks at a dollar a piece for the new church.
Then on November 10, 1935, the 1927 building was paid for and dedicated. Including the debt of the burned building and the cost of the new building, the congregation had paid off $18,000 – and that during the depression.
The church has seen other periods of physical expansion. In February, 1951, Mt. Pisgah bought from Mrs. L. S. Bass, for $6,000, a frame bungalow located where the present new sanctuary stands. The house served as Mt. Pisgah’s first parsonage. Prior to this time the minister served the circuit, and the parsonage was not in this community. The church rented the building one year to Chesterfield County for school classes. Payments on this house were completed in 1957. After the present parsonage was built, this house was rented for several years and then demolished in 1976.
The present education building was completed in 1963. And in 1969, the present parsonage was built. Then on April 24, 1977, the Mt. Pisgah congregation celebrated a note burning. That indicated both of these buildings were paid for, and once again, as in 1884, 1935, and 1957, Mt. Pisgah was “out of debt and in good repair.”
The story of Mt. Pisgah is a fascinating story of changing times, of changing names and deeds; the story of changing times but of unchanging determination, love, and dedication. By 1840 there were about fifty white miners in the Midlothian mines. These miners may have been responsible for the Wesleyan Chapel, a probable forerunner of Mt. Pisgah. No doubt, these English families were converts to Methodism under the Wesleyan movement before leaving their native England. Some of the family names known to have been a part of the first church were: Burton, Crump, Godsey, Jewett, Lucas, Manshall, Vincent. The members of the official Board at the times of the building of the 1927 building were: Dr. John B. Fisher, chairman, S.S. Foazien, L. S. Bass, B. S. Vincent, and J. W. Smith. In 1984, Edwin Gadberry was chairman of the Board; Bernadine Ritchey was secretary of the Board; Clay Canada was church treasurer; and Dee Spoadlin was chairman of the Council on Ministries.
At various times, Mt. Pisgah has been a part of different ministerial circuits. From 1860-1867 and from 1880-1891, the Coalfield Circuit was composed of churches from Manchester, now Richmond, to Amelia and from Hopewell on Courthouse Road to the James River. Mt. Pisgah was a part of that circuit. Sometime from 1891 -1892, Mt. Pisgah was on the Clover Hill Circuit. Then from 1892-1951, Mt. Pisgah was part of the West Chesterfield Circuit. This circuit contained these churches: Ramsey Memorial – became a station in 1945; Providence – became a station in 1950; Bon Air and Mt. Pisgah – became stations in 1951.
Some quotations from Quarterly Conference records give some description of life at Mt. Pisgah. December 24, 1882: “Mt. Pisgah debt $350.00. Mt. Pisgah assessment $100.00.
June 2, 1883: “We have three Sunday Schools on this circuit with a force of 20 teachers and officers and 125 scholars . . .Mt. Pisgah’s school which continues through the winter has improved right much since spring opened. On roll on the circuit 150.”
January 19, 1884: “$300 assessed for salary of minister. Two Sunday Schools operating successfully. Mt. Pisgah in bad need of benches.
January 31, 1886: “Pastors salary $365.00. Seven churches on charge.”
January, 1890: “The general state of the church is not what we would like it to be, but it is hopeful.”
February, 1891: “We do not believe that God has withheld the talents for these things, but we fear that many have buried what God intended them to use.”
November, 1893: “Five churches on charge with a total membership of 287. Mt. Pisgah’s assessment $130.00.”
December, 1982: “We see this church growing spiritually as well as in its physical plant and in members . . . a church with a rural flavor, but organized, busy, and one that is accomplishing things . . . we are working hard to keep communication open and alive, and continue to develop harmony among members who are newcomers and those who take pride in being a part of Mt. Pisgah’s past. We believe we are a church made up of people who care and who love, and who strive to live so that it shows.” (By Mrs. Nancy Morrissette)
God never built a church, but his mighty, loving, caring hand was with those of the past who built Mt. Pisgah, and if Mt. Pisgah is to prosper in the future, it will be because His hand still guides her as she looks backward, forward, and upward.
And that concludes one document from that dusty box but many treasures await us as we continue to explore this treasure trove.