When Pastor Karen Adams arrived as the new pastor for Mt Carmel United Methodist Church in 2005 she was greeted by a congregation of just five members. But that was five yeas ago. On Sunday nearly 50 people crowded the cozy 245-year-old sanctuary to celebrate Mt. Carmel’s history and to remember its rich heritage that includes an 18th century Methodist visionary preacher and a Civil War local icon.
Members gathered Sunday morning, many dressed in period clothing, to hear Frogtown resident Steve Jennings present a sermon originally preached by Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury at Mt. Carmel Church on June 1st, 1794. Much of the day was dedicated to recreating Asbury’s visit.
“I ventured to the church in the rain and bore feeble testimony for nearly an hour on 2 Peter i.4” Asbury recorded in his journal for the day. Asbury had been ill in the days leading up to his Mt. Carmel visit with a sore throat and earache. Despite his illness, Asbury crossed the Shenandoah River by canoe on his way to the church.
“I paid two men a quarter dollar each to take me across in canoes” Jennings told the congregation from Mt Carmel’s pulpit in character as Bishop Asbury.
Jennings preached for about twenty minutes, however in keeping with the tradition of the day, Asbury would have preached for much longer.
Jennings told the Mt Carmel parishioners that for practical purposes Asbury was the founder of American Methodism. “When Asbury became superintendent in 1784 there were 84 travelling preachers and less than 15,000 Methodists in the US. When he died in 1831 there were 212,000 Methodists, 2,000 local preachers and 700 circuit riders.”
Much of the history of Mt. Carmel has been handed down orally over the years. The entire area surrounding the church was part of a 17th century land grant through Lady Culpeper to Lord Fairfax. Although Fairfax had a large estate overlooking the Potomac, he spent much of his life west of the Blue Ridge in a more modest home that he called Greenway Court in what is today called Clarke County.
As the story goes, when Fairfax became ill he was nursed back to health by a woman named Ann Green of Ashby Gap. When Fairfax offered Green money for her help during his illness, Green is said to have refused asking instead for some land near where she lived for the purpose of building a church.
Lord Fairfax is said to have dispatched a young surveyor named George Washington to plat the ten acres that would become Mt. Carmel. The church was built sometime around 1765.
Situated on the western slope of the Great Blue Ridge just north of the intersection between Route 50 and VA Route 606, the tiny one room church witnessed both Union and Confederate troop movements throughout the Civil War including, perhaps most notably, an attack against Federal troops by Confederate Col. John S. Mosby’s rangers that occurred very near the Church late in the war.
10th grader Lindsey Jennings delivered a thrilling recreation of the Mosby Rangers skirmish fought near the church from the perspective of a woman who witnessed the fight and later cared for casualties carried into Mt Carmel as a temporary infirmary.
Jennings recounted that a Federal scouting party had just completed a sweep through western Fauquier County to detain men affiliated with Mosby’s group. While making their way north, the party was ambushed on February 19th, 1865 by a Confederate force led by Major Adolphus “Dolly” Richards. Although the Federals outnumbered the
Confederates, the close range fighting negated the troop advantage held by the Yankees. The Federals were soon scattered and made their way to the Shenandoah River and safety.
Thirteen Federals were killed in the action and 63 captured from a total of around two-hundred troops. Only one of the Rangers was wounded.
“I’m mostly interested in Civil War history” Lindsey Jennings said after her performance. “Last year I was in a Lord Fairfax Community College production about the life of Belle Boyd, the southern spy. That’s when I really got interested in Civil War history.”
Yesterday’s service included gospel music, barbequed chicken and fellowship.
Guitarists Steve Hudson and Brian Evans were accompanied by several impromptu performers throughout the afternoon. Also present were Mary Ellen and Duane Miller who had travelled to Clarke County from Greensburg, Pennsylvania for the Mt. Carmel celebration. The couple, married at Mt. Carmel nine years ago, both wore Civil War period clothing with Duane’s attire intended to replicate the uniform of a Mosby Ranger.
“”Even though I had two great-grandfathers and five great-great uncles who fought for the Union I’ve always felt a kinship with John Mosby” Miller said. “Both of us love this area, it’s beautiful country here.”
Pastor Karen Adams said that the Mt. Carmel Heritage Day celebration is an attempt by the congregation to reach out to neighbors by sharing the Church’s history. Adams said that next year the congregation plans to repeat the day with a recreation of the Mosby Rangers fight.
For a more detailed look at Mt. Carmel’s early records please visit http://www.RoystonGroup.com/MtCarmel
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