Church HistoryBPC-1896

The first record of Presbyterians in the Bedford area can be found as a request for supply preachers in the records of the Hanover Presbytery in 1760. By 1764, The Peaks and Pisgah Meeting Houses along with people from the town of Liberty and several other nearby preaching points had joined together as the Peaks of Otter Presbyterian Church and had called Rev. David Rice as their first pastor. From this time until the late 1830’s when the Presbyterian denomination split over matters of slavery and revivalism, the Peaks Church was served by a single Session, pastor, and at times a co-pastor, who rotated Sundays and Weekdays through various individual congregations. But quarterly all the congregations would come together in one place for several days of extended preaching followed by a communion service.

 

From the founding of our nation until the opening of the Civil War, a split began growing within the Presbyterian denomination over the issue of owning slaves. The “Old School” side believed that because slavery was used in the Old Testament time that it wasn’t against God’s Will, but was God’s way of saving the Black People. The “New School” followed the belief it was unscriptural to hold slaves.

 

By 1840 the Denominational split finally impacted the Peaks Church. Following the New School Presbyterians expulsion from the General Assembly, Rev. Jacob D. Mitchell and a large majority of the Peaks congregations aligned with the New School Church. Those remaining with the Old School movement then called and ordained John G. Shepperson who was to serve as their pastor for the next 29 years.

 

An interesting fact is that both of these churches, Old and New School, continued to use the same building on alternate Sundays for approximately three years until the New School congregation erected their own church building in the town of Liberty. Both churches also continued using the name – “Peaks of Otter Presbyterian Church” – for approximately twenty more years. In 1865, after the Civil War had concluded and the Old and the New School Churches of the Confederacy had reunited, at that time the church in town changed its name to Liberty Presbyterian Church. In 1870, Rev. Shepperson transferred his pastorate from the Peaks to the Liberty Church for the last seven years of ministry until his retirement

 

In 1843 with 271 recorded members among their four congregations (Liberty, Pisgah, Salem & Olivet), the New School Peaks Church secured title to a lot in the center of the town of Liberty and began construction on a new sanctuary which was completed in 1844. While there was no date recorded for when they held their first worship service in the new building it probably occurred in early June of that year.

 

It was largely due to the zeal and energy of Mrs. Thomas L. Leftwich, that the congregation undertook to build a church in Liberty. She was a woman of strong character and a sense of humor. To begin the work, she undertook to get four men to give $100 each, as she said, “for the four corners of the church,” her husband, Elder Leftwich, being one of them. She went to the country to see her nephew, Mr. J. C. Hopkins, to solicit another “corner” from him. He insisted that he could not give so much, but Mrs. Leftwich told him she was going to stay there and enjoy his hospitality until the Lord led him to see his way clear to do so. He finally consented, promising to pay when he could. In less than a month, a man came riding to his door and paid off an old debt that he had long since given up as lost. It was the exact amount of his obligation! The original stone steps at the entrance to the church were Mrs. Leftwich’s personal gift, the money raised by the loving labor of her hands (being both steep and worn, for safety reasons, these steps have since been replaced).

 

Our church now stands in the center of Bedford on a grassy lawn near the intersection of Main and Bridge streets, next to the clock. It is a simple colonial structure of brick, with white trimmings, an in-set vestibule supported by tall columns, a single spire surmounting the belfry whence the sweet-toned bell rings its Sabbath call to worship. The story is told that the tall spire was built on the ground, and the builder, Mr. Waldron, was much annoyed by the gibes of the “whittlers and tipplers,” who said it could not be raised to the belfry. But one fine morning there it was, all in its proper place. Mr. Waldron had done his work by the light of the moon and so outwitted his tormentors.


During and immediately following the years of the Civil War, Liberty Church membership fluctuated dramatically; At its lowest point in 1865 it had only 39 members. It had only grown back to 72 by the end of 1883. In 1884, 18 people transferred from the Peaks Church by our invitation following their church’s destruction by fire in 1881. In 1894, a large revival added 18 new members. This started a revival tradition that significantly grew the church thereafter. In 1916, per Session records, “A protracted meeting was held in March by Rev. S. W. Moore, in which there were 33 professions and renewals.” In 1921, 34 people were added to membership from the Sunday School after a ten-day meeting. Finally, by April 1928, with a roll of 256 communicants, 207 in Sunday School, 6 Elders and 7 Deacons, Liberty Church’s membership once again approximated that of the original congregation who had built the structure in 1844. Perhaps it is for this reason that the Church changed its name once more to become Bedford Presbyterian Church to better align itself with the now prosperous City of Bedford (the Town of Liberty had become the City of Bedford in 1890).

 

The first paid staff, other than the minister, was an organist in 1953. Our first church secretary was hired in 1959. Our current membership is around 120. Our general operating budget was around $200,000.

 

Resources:
1. A Prequel of the History of Bedford Presbyterian Church by Sonya Smith, 2018

2. Historians - Mrs. F. O. Thomas and Audrey Gregg
3. BPC Session Records

4. 1887 Sketch Book of Liberty VA Its People & Its Trade Illustrated by Edward Pollock

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