The 600-square-foot, unheated building was once the site of three-hour sermons, with attendees likely choosing the grassy slope outside over the backless puncheon benches.
For 225 years, Rehoboth Church has been sitting in the bottom of a dimple in Monroe County, W.Va.’s rolling hills, hidden to road travelers. Built when Shawnee Indians raided the region, the log church is sited so that no one can slip within rifle-shot range unseen. Some say it was built to double as a fort, or at least a refuge.
Rehoboth is the oldest Protestant church building west of the Allegheny Mountains. The church was dedicated by the famed Methodist circuit rider, Bishop Francis Asbury in 1786. An iron plaque declares it a place for worship “as long as the grass grows and water flows.”
Although regular services are no longer held in the small, dim building, Rehoboth does open up its plank doors for special occasions such as historical services. The original pulpit remains, but the old book-board is gone, split long ago by the fist of a rousing preacher.
At barely 600 square feet, the structure’s interior is too small to house two medium-sized cars. Still, it was larger than any of the homes where local Methodists had previously been meeting.
When a circuit-riding Methodist preacher came through, people from miles around would arrive the Saturday night before to camp on the grounds. The minister often stood in the doorway to deliver his message to the crowd outside as well as those relative few sitting on the benches inside.
Seating on the grassy slope outside may have been preferable. The backless puncheon benches, still standing in the church, look to be a numbing roost during the standard three-hour sermons. The room would have been tight and airless in summer, cold in winter. Two small windows let in light and air, but there was no stove, fireplace, or any other provision for warming the room, other than body heat.
The tiny church is now a designated United Methodist shrine and on the National Register of Historic Places. Ironically, the church plot was donated by a Roman Catholic settler, Edward Keenan, who was sympathetic to the Methodists. Keenan’s tombstone is located beside those of former Revolutionary War soldiers in the Rehoboth Church cemetery.
A small museum and conference center sits adjacent to the original church, two miles east of Union, W.Va. The museum displays significant historical artifacts from the region, including Rehoboth’s battered, poplar communion table. The museum is open Fridays and Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., April through October. Visits can be arranged at other times by contacting Rev. Kenneth Stockwell at 304-772-3518.