CANA, VA. — For Billie Hiatt, Saturday’s event was more about a day with family than anything else.
Members of the Mount Bethel Moravian Church gathered in the church’s fellowship hall Saturday morning to sit down to a traditional country breakfast to celebrate the 160th anniversary of what pastor Charlie Fishel called “just an old country church.”
Mount Bethel Moravian Church was founded on Nov. 24, 1852, and has been in continuous service to the Cana, Va., area and surrounding communities for 160 years.
It is a legacy not lost on Fishel.
“Being a pastor of a church this old you feel a sense of history,” he said from the subdued-yet-ornate sanctuary Saturday morning. “You’re in awe of the legacy of those who’ve gone before. I feel a duty and a responsibility to do my best.”
Fishel noted that several other Moravian churches in the area, including Mount Airy’s Grace Moravian Church, sprang from the Cana congregation.
“Grace Moravian, Crooked Oak and Willow Hill all came from this church,” Fishel said. “I guess you could say this church holds the roots of the Moravian religion in this area. I know it’s the oldest Moravian church in the region.”
And he should know.
While Fishel has only been serving the Cana flock for four years, he’s been a Moravian minister for more than four decades, including an 11-year stint as pastor at Grace Moravian.
For Hiatt, the church is simply home.
Hiatt, 79, has been the church’s pianist for nearly seven decades, after playing her first service when she was 12 years old.
“To me, this church is just my life, I guess,” she said Saturday. “I’ve been here all my life and everyone in this church is family. A lot of the same people are here and we’ve known each other all our lives.”
Sitting in the sanctuary surrounded by hand-carved wood and old white pine flooring, she noted that her wedding was the first one performed in the room.
“It was 1952,” she said, looking around the room. “Since then, all of my children have been married here. That’s something you just can’t replace.”
Hiatt credits the success of the church to its service to the community.
“This is a good place, and a center for fellowship and spiritual life in the community,” she said.
And the church has become more than a place to worship on Sunday morning.
“I think this church is a big thing in this community,” Hiatt said. “It’s always been here, and is pretty much the centerpiece of the community in this area.”
“It’s been here so long there’s a certain sense of security when you walk in these doors,” he said.
And that’s just the way it should be, according to Fishel and Hiatt.
“That’s its mission, to serve the community,” the long-time parishioner said, “to be a witness for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
“We’re concerned with the needs of the people here,” he said. “It’s important for this church to be a witness to the community for our Lord, and be a place where people can be nurtured in their spiritual life.
“Our mission is to grow and live and serve the Lord,” Fishel added.
But the significance of the occasion wasn’t lost on the minister.
“Just think of the number of people who’ve been blessed in this room,” he said, looking around the quiet sanctuary. “Just think about all the people who’ve accepted the Lord here. All the baptisms, all the weddings.
“Think of all the blessings that have happened right here.”
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.