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St. Mary’s Pine Lutheran Church Celebrates 250th Anniversary

This article was posted on the Shenandoah Valley Herald’s web site on May 26, 2010. St. Mary’s Pine Church figures prominently in the history of the Zirkle and Will families in the Shenandoah Valley. Early church records document our families’ active participation at St. Mary’s. Our Zirkle family is descended from John Rausch (Roush), noted in the article.

St. Mary’s Pine Lutheran Church Celebrates 250th Anniversary

By Aimee Baldwin

MOUNT JACKSON – Freedom was not known when those who wanted to worship freely did so at Rude’s Hill. Members walked 5 to 10 miles to a small building near a fort defending them from Indian attacks. The year was 1760 and it was the beginning of St. Mary’s Pine Lutheran Church, which sits on South Middle Road in Mount Jackson today.

In the beginning the church was known as Rude’s Hill Church because of the location. According to a history gathered by Julie Wilkins, member, worship could go back as far as 1745.

A history of Shenandoah County by John Wayward records that St. Mary’s could be the oldest church in Shenandoah County.

“In January 1776, Peter Muhlenberg probably delivered his famous war sermon at the Rude’s Hill Church, and nine of John Rausch’s sons stepped forward to serve in the Revolutionary War,” the history reads.

In July of 1787, the second church building was built on land deeded to Michael Zirkle and John Fitzmoyer. Both the Lutheran and Reformed churches worshipped there until 1874 when they split.

One of the oldest members of the current church, Helen Thomas, 83, says she has seen many changes.

“I think one thing that seems to have been present since the 1800s is that although sometimes you have few members and sometimes you have many members, we’re led by the Spirit, not by the number of people,” she said.

The current church building was built in March of 1873 and the same pews are being used today.

“The pews are still in use, well-made, and more comfortable than pews in most old churches after 136 years,” Wilkins’ history reads.

On Dec. 8, 1873, the church was dedicated as St. Mary’s Pine Lutheran Church.

“Old pictures show that in the beginnings of the current building there were two doors on the front – one for the women and one for the men,” said Lenord Wilkins, council president. “They said you could tell where the men sat and fell asleep by the grease on the wall.”

Many renovations have taken place over the years including a major one in 1955. Improvements then included painting of the walls, floor, and pews, a dossal curtain, new carpet, memorial windows, and a Hammond organ.

Also that year, the old school house was connected to the church, and a modern heating system, new roof, and exterior paint were added. In the 1960s, a modern kitchen and bathrooms were added.

The latest renovations were done in 2004 when a social hall, two classrooms, storage room, office and commercial kitchen were added.

“We’ve had many dinners to help pay for those renovations,” Wilkins said.

Thomas was baptized at the church on May 15, 1927, at six weeks old and has been a regular member since.

“I was there with my parents, I was married there, my kids were raised there,” Thomas said. “We’re small in number, but it’s a very spiritual place, not secular.”

According to Thomas, there are about 80 people on the roll, but regular attendance is between 40 and 60.

St. Mary’s is celebrating its 250th anniversary all year round, although the biggest celebration was held on Sunday, May 16, which included a special service with a lunch afterwards.

Wilkins says they are planning special activities for each month such as a service at the Rude’s Hill location in June. It is now just an open field so it will be an outdoor service commemorating the roots of the church.

“We’re looking at doing a lawn party/bonfire sometime in August and burying a time capsule at the end of the year,” he said. “Everything is in the planning process.”

No matter how old the church gets and how big or small the numbers are, Wilkins shares that everybody, not just a few people, get involved. He says it’s a community church that helps wherever possible.

“We love inviting and greeting visitors,” said Thomas. “We’ve always been a community minded church and it’s a loving family that you can call on anytime.”

Contact Aimee Baldwin at 459-4078, or e-mail her at