There are so many wonderful, thriving churches today in Mason County, but there is one that predates the rest. The Rev. John Lythe, an Episcopalian, was here in 1774 with Andrew Lewis. Rev. William Graham, a Presbyterian, settled above New Haven in 1796, though his settlement mostly disbanded by 1799. Methodist circuit riders likely visited the area as early as 1800. Though, none of these denominations officially organized. As a visitor to Point Pleasant noted in 1810, the town “contains about 15 or 20 families, a log courthouse, and a log jail.” There’s no mention of a church or any businesses. It wasn’t until six later, in 1816, that the first church was built.
With so many of us able to claim John Adam Rausch as an ancestor, it’s no wonder that the first church in Mason County was that of the German Lutherans. It was in 1806 that Rev. Paul Henkel, a close friend of the Roush family, first visited our region. He went first to John Roush’s home in Point Pleasant, then continued north to visit the other Roushes, who had settled near present-day New Haven and Syracuse. Ten years later, Rev. Henkel dedicated Jager Church in Point Pleasant. The first service was actually a memorial service held for the recently deceased John Roush. Not much else is known about this early church, as many Point Pleasant Lutherans soon moved closer to New Haven or into Ohio.
Two years later, Zion Church (the Barn Church) was built on Broad Run. This is the one replicated at the Farm Museum. In 1820, Pastor Henkel left to organize the Lutheran Church in Tennessee, leaving Mason County without a Lutheran minister until the arrival of Pastor John Miller in 1852. During those 30 years in between, services were still likely still held in the Barn Church. It wouldn’t have been uncommon for the minister serving Meigs County to cross the river once or twice a month.
During the time of Pastor Miller and his immediate successors, the Lutheran Church in Mason County went through a period of revival and growth. This era saw the reorganization of Zion Church, the creation of both St. Mark’s (Upper Flats) and St. Paul’s (New Haven) congregations. These were the three largest congregations in the county, though smaller ones existed at various locations.
By 1918, the churches were once again in decline as it was difficult to find a pastor. There were many times when the pastor serving Huntington or Parkersburg had to make a trip to Mason County, though things began to get better by 1929. Between then and WWII, many improvements were made to the churches, including the addition of electricity and electric organs.
The problem of finding a pastor soon returned and was solved in 1947 by the arrival of a student from the Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary. This was George Weirick’s first time in Mason County. From 1947 to 1953, he oversaw the growth of the Bend Area congregations. Four pastors followed him between 1953 and 1976, so that the Bend Area churches were never without one.
Also in 1953, the St. Peter’s congregation was organized in Point Pleasant. This was the first official Lutheran Church there since the Jager Church.
In 1976, the four churches of Mason County and the Our Savior Church in Ravenswood formed the Mason-Jackson Lutheran Shared Ministry, with George Weirick once again pastor. The churches grew and prospered during this time, and numerous celebrations were held. In 1983, the five congregations met at Zion for Martin Luther’s 500th birthday. In 1985, they met at St. Mark’s for the 125th anniversary of that church, and in 1987, they met at Zion for its 175th anniversary. Pastor Weirick retired in 1989, and if you ask any of the local congregations, they still hold fond memories of his time here.
The original Shared Ministry continued for a time after his retirement, though like other churches, they faced declining membership in the 21st Century. St. Mark’s has since consolidated with St. Paul’s, and Zion left the Shared Ministry. For a time, Rev. Neil Cadle served the Lutheran congregations, until his reassignment to a church in Texas. Finally, in August of last year and much to the congregation’s joy, Rev. Patrice Weirick (daughter of Rev. George Weirick) was installed as pastor.
Information from Rev. George Weirick’s “The Lutheran Church in Mason and Jackson Counties of West Virginia.”
The next meeting of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society will be held in December.
Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society.