The weekend of April 29-30, the Virginia Synod and the community surrounding Hebron Lutheran Church in Madison will all take part to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Hebron! Organized in 1717 by German settlers, Hebron is known as the oldest Lutheran worshipping community in the south.
The first Lutheran immigrants came to Virginia in 1717 to work at Governor Spotswood’s frontier mining community of Germanna. Others of their co-religionists followed- these were scattered, as indentured servants, over the same northern piedmont region. In 1725, most of the approximately sixty Lutheran families in Virginia moved to the Robinson River Valley. There: “at the very border of the Country under the Great Ridge of Mountains,” they formed the congregation and community of Hebron. Worship services were begun in 1726 in their roughly-built “German Chapel.”
The wooden church stands as the oldest continually operating Lutheran Church in the United States. Built in 1740 using traditional German building techniques, Hebron is one of four surviving wooden churches from Virginia’s colonial heritage.
In 1789, the “German Chapel”, played a role in the election of James Madison to the first Congress. Patrick Henry, the governor of Virginia at the time, blocked Madison from a seat in the first Senate, as well as gerrymandered electoral districts, including the Madison area, so that James Monroe would run against Madison for a seat in the House of Representatives. Madison appealed to those in the area surrounding Hebron on a platform supporting a Bill of Rights, and especially freedom of conscience in the new congress. Madison even visited Hebron Lutheran, addressing the members there and discussed constitutional subjects. These visits catapulted Madison to win the election- winning by only 336 votes across his 8-county district. From this election, historians have concluded that the United States might have lost the Bill of Rights had Madison lost the Congressional election.
In 1802 a Tannenburg organ was purchased and installed in the gallery of the church’s annex. It was constructed by a master organ maker David Tannenburg of Lillith, Pennsylvania. The organ was originally hauled to Madison by oxcart. It is one of only nine Tannenberg organs still in existence today and is the only Tannenberg organ that is still played in its original home. It is in near original condition. The organ’s keys are reverse-colored, made of ebony and ivory.
In 1885 the ceilings of Hebron were adorned with decorative victorian patterned frescoes, painted by Italian painter Giuseppe Oddenino.
Many changes have taken place at the church over 300 years, yet much remains the same, like the three horse stiles surrounding the church entrances!
This Saturday and Sunday the Virginia Synod and Hebron community will celebrate the long life of Hebron, with worship services led by ELCA PresidingBishop Elizabeth Eaton, Guest Preacher Assisted by Virginia Synod Bishop James Mauney and Hebron Pastor Patricia Covington.
Following the worship service, Saturday will take the time to recognize Hebron’s life, as well as the 175th Anniversary of Roanoke College, and recognize the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther and the protestant reformation. The afternoon will feature a historic presentation on Hebron, “God’ s People Together: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow ” presented by Ms. Judy Ann Fray, Chairperson of the Historical Committee and Longtime Church Member, regards from Roanoke College President Michael C. Maxey, “Roanoke Rising: From a Small School in a Humble Cabin to a First Class College on a Beautiful Campus “, as well as words from Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton, “Being Forward in Faith: A 501 Church: Questions and Answers “.
On Sunday, the Hebron community is invited to join together in worship and reflection to celebrate the life of Hebron. The afternoon will feature historic presentations on Hebon, the History of the Church and Congregation by Rev. William Hall, Hebron Pastor from 1970 – 1980, and on Hebron’s 1802 Tannenburg Organ by George Taylor.
For more information on celebrating and honoring Hebron’s history, click here.