Rockfish Presbyterian Church was founded as the Rockfish Meeting House in 1746 by fifty-seven men who had fled from Ireland to Scotland and on to North America. From Pennsylvania, they migrated south into Virginia, crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains at what is known as Jarman’s Gap and settled in what later became Albemarle and Nelson Counties.
These pioneers, with Michael Wood as their leader, purchased land in Rockfish Valley in 1745 from James McCann in order to build a church and a school and establish a cemetery. However, a structure was not constructed on the property until 1771. Until that time, it is presumed that church members met in various homes.
In 1747, before the meeting house was built, the inhabitants of Ivy Creek and the Mount Plains congregation joined with members of the Rockfish group and the Rev. Samuel Black was called to be their first pastor. He remained as pastor until his death in 1771. The people of Rockfish Valley used the Rockfish Meeting House for approximately 25 years. In 1771, during the ministry of Rev. William Irvin, a church was erected by Thomas Mason. The exact location of the church is not known, but it is assumed that it was located near the existing church. As was typical, the building was thought to be framed and located slightly back and north of the present church.
After 1813, no further record of the church appears until the reorganization of the church in 1849, when Rev. W.W. Strickley and a committee organized the present church that then consisted of ten members. The Rev. William Pinkerton was the first pastor under the reorganized church. It was a coincidence that he came 100 years later from the same congregation in Brandywine Mann Church, Pennsylvania, as did the first pastor, Rev. Black.
The present sanctuary construction began in 1853, when Rev. David E. Curtis was pastor. The structure was completed about the same time Rev. B.H. Wailes became pastor in 1854. He served in this capacity for 29 years. He so endeared himself to the congregation that when he died he was buried by his own request “as close to the pulpit as possible” at the back of the Rockfish Presbyterian Church.
During the early years of the nineteen hundreds, the church was struggling for survival since the membership had diminished to only ten active members. However, with the arrival of the Rev. J.P. Proffitt in 1916, the church experienced revitalization. Rev. Proffitt remained with the church for nine years. Summer revivals and enormous physical growth characterized this period, with the church increasing in size to 108 members.
During the Depression Years, the Rockfish Presbyterian Church moved back into a survival mode. In order to continue, not only did the church rely on loans from the Presbytery, it also participated in the yoking of churches. Yoking occurs when one pastor serves two or more congregations in the same geographic location. At first, Rockfish Presbyterian Church was joined with the Presbyterian churches in Lovingston, Amherst, and Tye River; in 1936, it was yoked with Lebanon Evangelical Church in Albemarle County; and in 1965, it began sharing pastors with Cove Presbyterian Church. The yoking continued until 1985, when Rev. Dinah L. Ansley became pastor.
During this period, the church was served by a number of pastors and supply ministers. Most notable among these was Rev. John M. Duckwall, who served from 1927 to 1939 and Rev. James M. Ammons, who served during the “War Years” from 1940 to 1945.
Disaster struck the Rockfish Presbyterian Church on October 15, 1954, when Hurricane Hazel slammed into Central Virginia. The roof and structure timbers of the church were ripped from the building and scattered in the nearby area. Nine days later the officers of the church met to plan restoration of the church. Luckily, George Fix of Lynchburg, Virginia, a former worshipper at the church, agreed to repair the church building at cost. The restoration work on the church was completed in 1955. The total cost for the repairs was $3,043.51.
Twelve years later, in 1966, the officers of the church decided to expand the physical size of the church by adding an educational wing. In 1967, the educational wing was constructed adjoining the restored sanctuary at a cost of $18,300 and renovations were made to the sanctuary.
The 1970s were somewhat of a turbulent time. During this period there were three regular pastors at Rockfish Presbyterian Church. And the decade ended with a dramatic drop in attendance in worship services. However, the decade of the 80s produced interesting changes and great progress.
The church began increasing the size of its congregation and added the following Sessional Committees: Christian education, Discipleship and Worship, and, for the first time in over fifty years, did not need any financial aid from Presbytery. Then in 1985, the church had grown to the size it could financially support a pastor. The Rev. Dinah L. Ansley began as a full-time pastor on March 31, 1985, the first full-time since 1925.
The 1990s began with the arrival of the Reverends David and Tandy Taylor as co-pastors of a church with 75 members and regular worship attendance of 55 to 60 people each Sunday. In 1991, Shirley Zielske was hired as a new full time Director of Music and quickly began building a strong program. Then in 1994, the Rockfish Presbyterian Church again undertook a construction program to expand its facilities and renovate the sanctuary. By mid-February 1995, the construction and renovation was completed, and on March 19 the church marked a festive building dedication worship service.
The year 1996 was a major milestone in the church’s history as it celebrated the 250th anniversary of the church. A spring festival was held in mid-May which included exhibits of church photos and historical memorabilia, a display of hand-sewn quilts, a display describing the practice of medicine in the 1700s, as well as original art depicting the natural beauty of the area. Homecoming in September found many former members and pastors celebrating with the congregation, with a special 250th anniversary hymn written by church member, Betty Sturm, proclaiming:
“For full two hundred fifty years,
this church has stood among the hills,
pronouncing hope, allaying fears:
Our thanks we offer Thee, O God,
Our thanks we offer Thee.”
In November 1996, a dinner theater, presenting a play with an original script, wove together the history of the church with that of the community and nation was presented. Finally, the fitting 250th anniversary motto, “Honoring the Past, Building for the Future,” was displayed on a banner and serves as a description of the quality of life at Rockfish Presbyterian Church.
The Taylors left Rockfish Presbyterian Church in 1998 to follow a calling to establish a new church in Greenville, South Carolina.
Following a search for a new pastor, David and Kathryn Cameron were called in 2000 as CoPastors to serve Rockfish. The church continued to grow and expand its community outreach under their ministry. Kathryn served until 2005. David served until 2010 when he accepted a call in Albuquerque.
In 2012, Reverend Louie V. Andrews III began his ministry and served Rockfish until the end of 2020.
The casual observer would note an extension to our physical plant (the church embarked on another construction project to renovate, expand, and modernize the building in 2016.). Three more important moments stand out.
First, the people of Rockfish fully committed themselves to looking beyond themselves. Our women and men wood ministers (average age 72) split wood, loaded trucks, delivered and unloaded wood to many folks in Nelson County throughout the fall, winter, and early spring. We expanded as mentors into the elementary schools and provide food. We grew a community garden. We opened our doors, usually free of charge, to anyone who needed space. We became a seven-day church and the community was our playground.
Second, we admitted we are a church with diverse political views. This was severely tested in 2016. Rockfish is a community blessed with people from every political spectrum. Without retreating from individual political allegiances, we strived to continue to love each other and work together. With the love of Christ as our guide, we learned to control rhetoric and respect our differences.
Third, we radicalized our understanding of “church” in the midst of a historic pandemic. Rockfish church thrives on community. In 2020 we learned how to communicate, worship, and care for each other from a distance. We learned to Zoom and YouTube. We bundled up and worshipped outdoors. Nothing was the same except the love we have for each other. Not a single case of COVID-19 was contracted. We not only survived, but we also confirmed church has always been more than just a building.
The church now has a growing membership of 175.
The church has been blessed with faithful pastors and members who have kept the flame of Christ’s love alive through many lean times. The tenacious spirit of those first Scots-Irish settlers still lives, but Rockfish has become a place where people of all backgrounds are welcomed and affirmed.