Shenandoah County Churches
As Europeans began to colonize the area that is today Shenandoah County, they brought their Christian faith with them. Though these early settlers often did not have dedicated church buildings, traveling ministers and a personal desire to maintain their faith led them to organize religious services and congregations starting in the 1760s.
Originally only the Anglican (Episcopal) Church was recognized by the government. However, the German heritage of most of the population meant the Lutheran and Reformed traditions were followed, though these activities were outside the law.
After independence, these branches of Christianity began to establish their own churches. Originally these were all Protestant congregations. By the start of the Civil War Lutheran, Reformed, and Presbyterian churches among others were operating throughout the county. However, the religious population remained low and the number of individuals who regularly attended churches regularly was small.
Legends tell that a church would be built every 10 miles, or about half as far as a horse could travel in one day. These congregations often shared ministers, or even sometimes buildings, until their financial situation improved. Some ministers served churches in Strasburg, Woodstock, and Mt. Jackson at the same time. Naturally, services were held on a rotating basis when the minister was in town.
Following the conflict the expansion of the railroad brought an influx of immigrants to the area. Many of these were Irish Catholics who founded the county’s only Catholic Church in 1888. That period also saw the growth of religious fervor in the county as a result of the trauma associated with the Civil War. This, coupled with a booming local economy, led to the construction of a large number of church buildings in the 1880s and 1890s.
Churches continued to expand during the 20th century. Modern conveniences such as electricity and indoor plumbing emerged and most churches chose to adapt these over some more conservative minimalist teachings. In the post-world war two era educational wings were added to many churches as a second wave of prosperity and devotion, after yet another conflict, swept the county.
Independent churches continued to operate through both the 19th and 20th century. Many local residents take pride in their refusal to follow national doctrines, especially if they did not agree with every tenant. Competing churches of the same denomination often emerged close to each other after congregational divisions. Nondenominational congregations have also been popular among many who feel completely disillusioned with denominational canon.
Today, churches in Shenandoah County remain a large part of our community. They continue to host numerous social events, community meetings, and spiritual services. The number of attendees is still high when compared to other locations. However, many congregations face declining memberships as more people leave rural communities and move to towns. This had led many churches to close or consolidate.