Early History of Genito Presbyterian Church
(Excerpted from Rev. L. Salita’s “Genito Generations”)
Since the 1850’s there had been one official, organized Presbyterian Church in Powhatan County, appropriately named Powhatan Presbyterian Church. Its home was near the village of Powhatan, near the present-day location of Providence Church. What a long drive, though, for folks from the eastern part of the county. Sometimes they met in a one-room building located one mile from the Appomattox River Bridge.
In July, 1909, the Genito area elders and deacons began discernment and discussion in earnest regarding the formation of “a separate and distinct organization” in the belief that “it would be for our common good and result in the advancement of our Master’s Kingdom.”
Elders were appointed to attend the October meeting of the East Hanover Presbytery with a petition to organize the Genito Presbyterian Church. Eighteen people signed the petition as charter members. The request was granted, and a Presbytery commission was appointed.
On November 9, 1909, “All day services were held at Genito Church for the purpose of organizing and independent Presbyterian Church.” An official meeting of the Presbytery commission was held, thirty-six members had their names recorded in the new Church Register, a congregational meeting resulted in the election of the first Session and first treasurer. There were two sermons, a collection was taken for the benefit of the Presbyterian Orphanage in Lynchburg, and a fine lunch was served.
While no record remains to provide the details, we know that in 1910 the new church purchased a pulpit Bible and a matching set of communion service and baptismal font, which remain in use to this day. The pulpit Bible was in use until, in 2019 at the 110th Anniversary Celebration, it installed in a showcase and a new pulpit Bible dedicated.
Also in 1910 a Women’s Auxiliary organization was formed, and evangelistic efforts were begun in Clayville and Pilkington. Collections for home and foreign missions work, for the orphans in Lynchburg, and other projects were important in the life of the church.
In 2009, Mrs. Margaret Richardson recorded her memories of the first church building. The white frame building stood adjacent to the church cemetery with its two large cedar trees; nearby were a tavern, storehouse, and cabinet shop.
“Inside the building we used for a church," Margaret said, "was one big room with wires strung overhead from side to side. These were used for curtains to make class rooms for Sunday school. We had no books just sheets of paper with our lesson printed on it. Some students enjoyed that as they made airplanes and sent them over the wires into the next class.
“We had no electricity, no heat except a big pot belly stove. First one there built the fire in winter time. No running water, no rest rooms. Our transportation was our feet, unless you were lucky enough to have a horse.”
By 1926, the Session had begun talking about the need for a newer, larger church building. As the Session discerned and discussed, the ladies got busy and began fundraising. In 1928, the Session had decided to purchase two acres of land one mile up Genito Road.
In 1930 and 1931, in the midst of the Depression that covered the nation, both membership and giving were down. Still, the Building Committee, the Session, and the Congregation voted successively in 1932 to proceed with plans to build the new church building at our current site.
The November 1933 record of the new church building, states:
“The women’s auxiliary of the Church started a building fund, which was the first money raised. Mr. CE Burdick gave 1 ½ acres of land in a beautiful location near the old Genito school and the congregation decided it was the best location for a Church so they accepted it.
“In July 1932, a building committee was appointed by the Pastor Rev. WT McDonald. This committee got to work at once and after accepting a plan employed Mr. C Dorset as head carpenter. The foundation was started the 26th of September, 1932. Two of the members, Mr. PH Knabe and MR. FA Knabe, gave all the rough lumber, and the rest of the members gave labor and money and also our many friends gave money and we soon had our Church going up.
“On Jul 16, 1933, we had the Church Dedicated, By the Pastor W F McDonald. The sermon was delivered by Rev. Wm S. Campbell, of Richmond VA. Abner Robertson Pastor of Forest Hill Church, South Richmond was there also. We received $53.00 collection to help finish the Church.”
The 1940’s were the most turbulent years in Genito Presbyterian Church’s history too. It began calmly, with the congregation settled in its new location and enjoying stability in membership and finances. The first Session annual report of the decade showed 70 members, a total budget of $541, and an estimated value of $2,500 for the church building with no debt. But change was on the horizon. After war was declared, tire and gasoline rationing led the Session to vote to limit pastoral visits to emergencies. In the summer of 1943, a special prayer service was held for the sixteen young men of the church who had gone off to war. Months later, just ten years and five months after dedicating the new church building, it burned to the ground on Christmas Eve 1943.
But plans began the very next month to rebuild – in brick this time – with financial assistance from the Presbytery’s Home Mission Committee and a new round of fundraising by the church Women’s Auxiliary. Wartime rationing made getting materials more complicated, but the basement was completed that year, and work continued through 1945.
In April 1946 the first worship service was held in the new sanctuary, our present sanctuary, on Easter. The new church was outfitted with a bible stand, altar table, and chairs donated by Mrs. Herman Knabe, a plaque in memory of WWII soldier Paul Harris, and after a last minute collection, pews. A dedication worship service and picnic were held in August, 1947.
In the midst of tragedies and triumphs, the congregation worshipped continuously (in Grace Episcopal’s sanctuary for a while) and its members continued to engage in teaching, preaching, fellowship, outreach, and prayer. The faithful patterns established in the first decades of the 20th century continue to bear fruit today.