Rural Potomac Church Celebrates 50 Years of Ministry
Story by Tiffany Doss
Fifty years ago, members of Potomac Conference’s Highland County (Va.) church celebrated their first Sabbath together. The church, constructed for $30,000 dollars in 1964, was to stand as a “memorial for the cause of God in another ‘dark county’” (Columbia Union Visitor, 1964). Neal Wilson, then Columbia Union Conference president, and C.H. Lauda, Potomac’s president at the time, participated in the dedication service.
While Highland County’s first year in service brought 30 baptized members and an average attendance of 45 people, the church later struggled to maintain its membership and eventually shuttered its doors in 1983. However, the tenacity of the remaining Seventh-day Adventists stayed strong, and 10 years later, they reopened the church’s doors.
“We are in a very rural area of Virginia, with a little over 2,000 souls in the entire county. This averages out to be about four people per square mile,” said Joe Pappalardo, elder. “There are also not a lot of places for employment here, so when someone goes off to college, they probably won’t be coming back.”
Two events were recently held to celebrate the anniversary that some feared would never happen. A small gathering on the actual year-to-date 50th year anniversary was held on December 28. This intimate service included testimonies from several members and a period of reminiscing on the challenges and blessings that the congregation has seen. The congregation also received a video from Ted Wilson, General Conference president and son of Neal Wilson, in which he expressed his gratitude for the work being done in Highland.
About 75 people attended the second service on January 18. Many community members came to learn the history of the small church down the road. Guest speakers included Elmer Malcom, whose father donated the land the church is built on; Roger Mace, who once served there as pastor; and John Miller, who helped build the church.
Today the church’s 13 members continue the fight for the kingdom with unique community Bible outreach programs, including an interdenominational Bible study, where sometimes community guests outnumber the members. “We follow the Amazing Facts guideline,” said Pappalardo, “so we are discussing Bible truths, but this dynamic allows us to approach topics in a non-confrontational way and have both sides consider a different view point. It also helps us dialogue about the state of the dead and the Sabbath.”
Pappalardo says as they try to bring more people to the church, tradition is one of the biggest challenges they face. He says with many people having five or six generations attend the same church, most will not consider going somewhere else. However, the small, close-knit community allows Highland members to be aware of individual needs, allowing them to reach out and pray for people in a very pointed way.
Though the church has faced hardships, the members will not be deterred from doing the work of God. “We believe God has sustained us and trust that He will continue doing so,” said Pappalardo. “There are souls nearby that will respond to God’s truth and God’s banner must be flown in all places, large and small.”