Story and photos by Kaitlin Hill

Hunt Country is home to many of Virginia’s best-preserved historic churches. They stand serenely on rolling hills or nestle brick-to-brick with modern neighbors, lining the main streets of small towns.

Spending time staring out of the stained glass windows or taking a moment of silent meditation in hand-hewn pews offers a glance into yesteryear as the 21st century rages on outside. But far from pieces of antiquity, places of faith have modernized their methods of spreading their messages, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sermons are live-streamed and offerings of peace are shared in virtual chats, as many people turn to places of worship for comfort in these weary times. As times change, so do the churches, ever-ready to serve the people who seek solace through their faith. In that spirit, here is a look at how some local places of worship started and what they are doing today. 

Emmanuel Episcopal Church  

Emmanuel Episcopal Church has a long history in Middleburg, dating back to 1842. On June 25 of that year, four trustees of the Protestant Episcopal Church of Middleburg bought the quarter-acre lot that sits at the corner of Washington and Liberty Streets. They began construction of the main building right away. Just over a year later, Virginia Assistant Bishop John Johns consecrated the church. In 1856, the church would acquire two more lots in Middleburg, one with an existing brick structure that would later serve as the parsonage. 

Many early parishioners are people of historical note. Parishioner Charlotte Haxall Noland opened the Foxcroft School in 1914 and would serve as head of the school for 40 years. She also founded the Foxcroft Social Services Clinic, providing medical aid to the poor. 

Emmanuel Episcopal Church

In 1926, the church’s footprint was expanded to accommodate a gifted pipe organ, bringing the dimensions to 30×60 feet and the congregation capacity up to 70 from 40. 

The annual Christmas Shop was founded in 1948 to support the church. In more recent years, funds raised have been directed to local charities like A Place to Be, the Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter, Seven Loaves Pantry, and Windy Hill housing. In its 72nd year, for the first time ever, the Christmas Shop will be held virtually in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In response to the pandemic, Emmanuel Episcopal Church worship has moved online. The 10:30 a.m. Sunday Celtic Morning Prayer and the 5:30 p.m. Wednesday Evening Prayers are both available on YouTube, linked on the website. Full copies of Reverend Eugene LeCouteur’s sermons are also available on the website. In addition, the doors to the church are always open for moments of silent prayer and meditation. 

105 East Washington Street
Middleburg, Va. 20117 

540-687-6297

emmanuelmiddleburg.org

Middleburg Baptist Church  

Initially known as the Free Church, the brick structure on top of the hill behind Middleburg’s main street was once home to many different Christian groups that practiced there in turn. Shiloh Baptist Church, Middleburg Methodist Church, Aldie Presbyterian Church and Middleburg Baptist all shared the Free Church, until Middleburg Baptist Church became the sole owner and inhabitant of the building. Middleburg Baptist Church was officially founded on April 27, 1874. The picturesque site between Sharon Cemetery and Memorial Cemetery is built of locally fired brick and still looks as it did nearly 150 years ago. Many of the windows contain the original glass, and some of the initial iron hardware are still in the inner doors. During the Civil War, the site was used as a hospital following the Second Battle of Manassas. 

Middleburg Baptist Church

Though much has stayed the same at Middleburg Baptist Church, they have made necessary adjustments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Worship services shifted outdoors for the majority of 2020, and they are keeping that option in mind for any unseasonably warm December days. On Nov. 15, they reopened their church’s doors for in-person services at 10 a.m., but not without a long list of precautions. Masks are required at all times, social distancing is enforced and temperatures are taken at the door. Services are kept to one hour, and ventilation is accomplished by propping open doors. The church has also invested in air scrubbers for an added layer of sanitation. Members of the congregation who are uncomfortable with in-person worship can watch a Facebook live-stream every Sunday at 9 a.m.

The team at Middleburg Baptist is monitoring the changing state and local guidelines carefully, and they don’t have any set plans for the holiday season. But the staff is considering a carol-inspired outdoor service for Christmas Eve, weather permitting. 

209 E. Federal Street
Middleburg, Va. 20117

540-687-5222

middleburgbaptistchurch.org

United Methodist Church 

Founded after the Revolutionary War and named at the Christmas Conference of 1784, the Methodist Episcopal Church in Middleburg was initially part of the Free Church located on Federal Street. After leaving the Free Church, MEC parishioners practiced their faith at Asbury Church, founded in 1829. In 1858, a larger church was built on Washington Street. The congregation moved there, and remains there today as the United Methodist Church. 

United Methodist Church

Though, before being renamed “United,” the Methodist church actually split over the issue of slavery, becoming the Methodist Episcopal Church South (MEC South) and the Methodist Episcopal Church. The official schism occurred at the MEC General Conference in 1844. Though part of the MEC South, the Washington Street church became a hospital for wounded soldiers from either side during the Civil War, and the old Asbury location became supply storage and a mortuary. In 1864, a year before the end of the Civil War, The Asbury Church was donated to the black congregation of the Methodist church. 

In the 1930s the divided Methodist Church reunited, and in 1968 merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church to form the United Methodist Church as it is known today. 

After divisions and unifications, Middleburg’s United Methodists still practice at the Washington Street church built in 1858, all these years later. However, these days look a little different. Closed from the end of March due to COVID-19, services shifted online where parishioners can live-stream Reverend Steve Weedling’s services filmed at a sister church in Rectortown. In person service in Middleburg resumed on Nov. 1, but with health conscious precautions set in place for safety. In-person service is at 11:30 a.m., and streaming starts at 10 a.m. every Sunday, but can be watched anytime. The United Methodist Church in Middleburg is following state and CDC guidelines for in-person worship along with rules set forth by Virginia’s United Methodist Church Bishop, Sharma D. Lewis. 

15 W. Washington Street
Middleburg, Va. 20117

540-687-6492

middleburgunitedmethodistchurch.org

St. Stephen the Martyr Catholic Church

St. Stephen the Martyr Catholic Church was established under the Diocese of Richmond in 1957. Before building its current structure, it used to meet at the Middleburg Community Center. Six years later in 1963, the building, still standing on Sam Fred Road, was officially dedicated and would go on to become a parish in 1975. For a long time, it was believed to be one of the only Catholic churches between Winchester and Clarke County. It is often referred to as “Kennedy’s Church” as President John F. Kennedy and his family attended mass there under Father Albert Francis Pereira. The building even has a soundproof and bulletproof usher’s room where Kennedy could take calls if needed. Sadly, Kennedy only attended mass twice at the Sam Fred Road location on Oct. 27 and Nov. 10  of 1963. He was assassinated 12 days after his second visit to St. Stephen’s. 

St. Stephen the Martyr Catholic Church

Now, under Reverend Christopher D. Murphy, the church has undergone a few recent upgrades. Renovations include a new Italian marble altar, tile flooring, a redone baptismal font, refurbished pews, and energy efficient lighting. 

Currently, mass is held in-person with masks and social distancing. The church is in the process of setting up a web broadcast for those who would prefer to stay home. Worship times are Sunday at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. in English, and 12:30 p.m. in Spanish. Mass is held Monday through Saturday at 8:30 a.m. in English, and on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. in Spanish. 

23331 Sam Fred Road
Middleburg, Va. 20117

540-687-6433

saint-stephen.org

Trinity of Upperville 

The “trinity” of Trinity Episcopal Church is an appropriate name, as the current campus is the third rendition of the site. The trustees of the church bought the land from Robert Singleton on September 30, 1842 for $100. Unfortunately, the original structure built the same year suffered extreme dampness and was torn down in February 1895. Its replacement lasted until 1948, but was also demolished as the building was in bad condition. The current structure, which sits on 35 acres, was a gift to the parish by Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, two members of the church. Building of the third structure began in 1951 envisioned by architect H. Page Cross. Mostly made of native sandstone, the structure is Cross’ adaptation of 12th and 13th century French churches. Local craftspeople handled the stone and woodwork, but the bells were made in England and the stained glass windows were created in the Netherlands by Joep Nicolas. Nine years after construction began, the first service was held there on
Sept. 28, 1960. 

Trinity of Upperville

On July 1, 2020, the church welcomed a new Rector, Jonathan V. Adams, who came from St. Martin’s Church in Houston, Texas. Though he started at Trinity during a pandemic, he has enjoyed the opportunity to get to know the community in smaller groups. 

In light of COVID-19, the services have been held outdoors in the Bishop’s Garden, employing the use of “worship pods.” Service attendance requires social distancing and mask wearing. As of mid-November, the church purchased four outdoor heaters and they are planning to buy a dozen more to continue worship in the courtyard throughout the winter. They also offer a full service and a children’s sermon online. 

Their annual children’s Christmas pageant will be held on Christmas Eve at 2 p.m. on the steps of the courtyard. A succinct, 35-minute Eucharist will follow the festive pageant at 3 p.m. 

9108 John S Mosby Hwy
Upperville, Va. 20184

540-592-3343

trinityupperville.org

Congregation Sha’are Shalom 

The history of Jewish congregations in Virginia is largely centered in Alexandria, where a large Jewish community resided. There were hardly any Jewish communities outside Alexandria until the 1940s. In part due to Roosevelt’s expansion of federal agencies, Jewish communities started to spread throughout Northern Virginia. According to the Institute of Southern Jewish Life, the completion of the Pentagon in 1943 attracted federal workers and led to an expanded Jewish population in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., reaching nearly 700 families by 1946. With the installment of Washington Dulles Airport in 1962, Jewish families continued to move further west. And, instead of a long commute to D.C., Arlington, or Alexandria to practice their faith, they built churches in the expanding suburbs of Falls Church, Herndon, and Fairfax. 

Congregation Sha’are Shalom

Considered the first synagogue in Loudoun County’s 250-year history, Congregation Sha’are Shalom, meaning “Gates of Peace,” in Leesburg is a blend of traditional and modern for those who practice Judaism. Led by Rabbi Bruce D. Aft, Congregation Sha’are Shalom offers three services weekly. Ereu Shabbat is on Friday evenings at 6:30 p.m., Shabbat is on Saturday mornings at 10 a.m., and Shabbat B’Yachad is once a month at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday mornings. And they welcome all to their congregation, as they say, “from Orthodox to non-Jewish.”  

For the safety of their community, Congregation Sha’are Shalom has moved Shabbat services online. The religious school, youth activities, and adult education are virtual as well. Congregation Sha’are Shalom’s website offers resources to help the congregation navigate the traditions of Judaism during this challenging time. For in-person gatherings, the Congregation Sha’are Shalom is following the guidance of the Loudoun County Health and Human Services Department, the Virginia Department of Health, the CDC, and the Secure Community Network, a branch of the Jewish Federations of North America. ML

19357 Evergreen Mills Road
Leesburg, Va. 20175

703-757-6500

shaareshalomleesburg.org

Published in the December issue of Middleburg Life.