Since 1781, Severns Valley Baptist Church in Elizabethtown has been an institution of Christian spirituality in the area. Founded when early settlers came to the area and before Elizabethtown was formally established, the church’s congregation originally worshiped under a sugar maple tree.
Now located at 1100 Ring Road, the church is operating in its seventh house of worship since its formation. It is the oldest Baptist church in Kentucky and the oldest evangelical church west of the Allegheny Mountains.
To mark Severns Valley’s 240th anniversary, a program detailing the church’s deep history is set to take place at 11 a.m. Tuesday in the building’s multi-purpose room. Presented by church member Don Patterson, the program will chronicle the lives of Jacob Van Meter, the gatherer of the church and John Gerard Jr., the church’s first pastor.
The story begins in 1778 in the Ten Mile Country of Pennsylvania and will continue through Van Meter’s death in 1798. Patterson will tell the story in third-person as a narrator and also will speak in first-person as Van Meter during the program
Patterson said he and his wife, Glenda, have presented similar programs at other venues under the title “West of the Alleghenies.” He said there were discussions about presenting the program at Severns Valley last year but the idea was quelled temporarily due to COVID-19.
Senior Adult Pastor Emory Riley brought up the idea of offering the program this year as a way to celebrate Severns Valley’s 240th birthday, Patterson said.
“We were interested in recognizing the years of existence of the church and to note its importance in the community, its continuing missions through the years and its adherence to its foundations,” Patterson said.
In preparation to present the program, Patterson and his wife took on extensive research, utilizing libraries in West Virginia, northern Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, along with research sites such as the Filson Club in Louisville, Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, the Library of Congress, the University of Virginia and Harvard University.
“We were able to access applicable church histories; local historical archives of the areas that the characters occupied,” Patterson said.
Patterson also made contact with many descendants of the pioneers mentioned in the story, some of whom hold regular meetings and offer newsletters. Works on the history of specific local areas also were utilized, such as Mabel Gardiner’s “Chronicles of Old Berkeley” and J. H. Spencer’s “A History of Kentucky Baptist.”
Tuesday’s program also will include period music, which will be performed as a prelude and during the program itself.
Glenda Patterson, Debby Couch and Sheila Whitten will play a variety of instruments throughout the program, such as the harp, native flute, hammered dulcimer and bowed psaltery. Certain compositions in the program were arranged by Glenda Patterson.
“The music is intended to move the story along, deepen the storyline or enhance a particular point in the story as the story develops,” Don Patterson said.
Including the prelude, the program is set to last about an hour, Patterson said. It is free and open to the public.
“We hope the audience and especially the members of the church will have a deeper appreciation of the longevity of the church and of the efforts of the founders — especially Jacob Van Meter and John Gerard Jr. — by knowing something of their character and contributions to this area and to an emerging nation, to include some of their challenges, sacrifices, hardships, achievements, as well as downfalls and redemptions,” Patterson said.