Worship is the heart of our story and our faith, believing that to “gather with God’s people in united adoration of the Father is as necessary to the Christian life as prayer” (Protestant Reformer Martin Luther):
Although the earliest history of SPC is obscured by the lack of written records, there’s evidence of Presbyterian services and meetings held in the Salem area before 1800. John Craig, an early and famous apostle of Presbyterianism in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, preached at a location east of Salem as early as 1749. In about 1802, the Ebenezer Church was built a few miles east of Salem on the site of the former New Antrim Church at Peters Creek.
The Salem Church was founded in June of 1831 when the Ebenezer Church and the Catawba Union Church united to form a new congregation in the growing town of Salem. A building was completed in 1833 on the site of what is now the Old Academy Street school.
During the pastorate of Urias Powers, our present church site was purchased in 1851. Our sanctuary was erected that year and dedicated in 1852. The appearance of the exterior of the sanctuary remains essentially the same today with the exception of the church tower and the wooden shutters which have been removed from the windows.
Ten years after the sanctuary was built, the Civil War began. The Rev. Lindsay Hughes Blanton, pastor from 1861-1868, also served as chaplain in the Confederate army. The time of Blanton’s pastorate was perhaps the “darkest, stormiest and saddest time” of the church’s history, evidenced by the removal of former slaves from church membership. Following the war, Dr. Blanton went to Kentucky and raised funds to repair the church building which included removing slave galleries running down each side of the sanctuary, lowering the “high pulpit” and lengthening the sanctuary by 20 feet.
The arrival of the Rev. Leroy Gresham as pastor in 1909 began a new period of educational ministry. A church school building at the rear of the sanctuary was added in 1914. An enlargement and remodeling of this addition was made in 1941. During this period, the Salem Church began the Wildwood Chapel which later became New Hope Presbyterian Church, which still exists today.
A new pipe organ was installed, and changes were made in the choir loft in 1953, early in the pastorate of Dr. Elwood Vaughan. Later that year and again in 1956, several properties to the north of the church, fronting on Market and Clay Streets, were acquired. In 1957 and 1958 the present educational building which houses Gresham Fellowship Hall was constructed. The sanctuary was also remodeled and further enlarged to increase the seating capacity.
The 1980s and early 1990s saw an expansion of outreach ministries. During the pastorate of the Rev. Fred Webb, we first worked with Habitat for Humanity. In 1991, we hosted our first Thanksgiving Dinner for the “Alones and Needy.” These emphases continued during the ministry of the Rev. Dean Lindsey as we became a host congregation for the Interfaith Hospitality Network in 1998. The congregation also responded generously to the great human need in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and 2006.
Ministries of music have thrived in these latter years, as well. Longtime SPC Organist Carlton Collins retired in 1992. The music program continued to be ably led by Glenna Fisher, Jean Potts, and Garnett Carroll. In 2000, the chancel area of the sanctuary was re-oriented and a new organ console was installed. We have fabulous choirs, including a bell choir and choirs for children and youth. In 2006 our Chancel Choir performed in Carnegie Hall in New York City. All of our music ministry is led by our Director of Music and organist Reed Carter.
A growth in educational and fellowship needs led to the construction of Millennium Hall in 2000, a large project of renovation and expansion. Prior to that, in 1994, Round Table began under the guidance of Director of Christian Education, Pat Kirk. In 2006, we welcomed an associate pastor, Janet Chisom, who is leading us in new ventures in education and outreach
In 2002, Session approved the addition of a Parish Nurse Ministry, led by Kitty Beehner. With an RN trained in pastoral care on staff, we are better able to meet the needs of those hospitalized, homebound, elderly, or facing spiritual challenges through regular visitation, support, health education, and prayer.
Our current pastor, the Rev. Dr. Will Robinson, joined in 2009, coming from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, where he earned his Ph.D. in Biblical Studies in 2015. Before his call to graduate studies at Union, Will served in Presbyterian churches in Indianapolis and Tulsa.
Observance of our 175th anniversary began in 2005 with the recognition of long-time members Rome Tuttle, Jim Taney, and Charlotte Oakey. A special weekend of celebrations was held in June of 2006, featuring music, historical skits, and prayers of thanksgiving for our rich heritage. The Rev. Dr. Tom Long, professor at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology at the time, preached, and we also began a Video History Project so that the stories of our past can be shared with the church of the future.
A window into SPC
Fellowship with those wishing to grow in Christian faith and to serve the Lord
Intergenerational mission trips to serve those in need
Youth regularly involved in local “mini missions”
Financial and volunteer support to area organizations such as Area Churches Together (ACT), Presbyterian Community Center, West End Center, and the Salem Clothes Closet
Offering caring service in the Roanoke Valley through efforts such as Family Promise, Roanoke Rescue Mission, Habitat for Humanity, and connecting with students at Roanoke College
Helping feed our community by providing donations to the Salem Food Pantry, helping grow produce in the Salem Fresh Ideas volunteer garden on our property, and hosting an annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner