The congregations of the German Reformed, Lutheran, and Presbyterian churches in the settlement of Mecklenburg (later Shepherdstown) date their origins to 1747, when they were meeting in local houses and long-forgotten buildings around town. By 1782, the three congregations were sharing a small log building perched at the eastern edge of the settlement known as Mecklenburg (later Shepherdstown). Located on land donated to the Reformed church by Henry Cookus, the church would have been prominently visible to all travelers coming south along the wagon road running from Philadelphia into the Shenandoah Valley as they climbed up the hill after crossing the Potomac River at the nearby ford.
By 1795, the Lutherans and Presbyterians had left to occupy their own church buildings in town. The stone bell tower that still stands today was built by the Reformed congregation around 1798 in front of their log church. When the present brick structure was built in 1839, the encroaching graveyard in the rear left no option but to build the new church in what was the front yard of the original building — hence the unusual configuration of the bell tower at the rear of the church.
Life is Sweeter When We Journey Together
The Reformed congregation’s records list 29 ministers since 1796. The current pastor, Gayle Bach-Watson, says, “I came to it as a second career” when describing her path to the ministry. After graduating from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington DC, Bach-Watson was ordained in 2000 and served at several UCC congregations in Maryland before coming to the Christ Reformed church in Shepherdstown in 2015.
The members of the local congregation quickly determined Bach-Watson was a good fit and formally called her to be the permanent pastor in 2016. They also moved forward with a decision to update the church’s mission statement, defining themselves as an “open and affirming congregation.” Bach-Watson recalls the vote as unanimous, and described it in the context of the UCC tradition: “everyone can come to the table and we welcome anyone who seeks a deeper relationship with God, regardless of where they are on life’s journey or how they define God.”
Bach-Watson recently announced she will be retiring in January and noted that what she enjoyed most about the job is walking around and meeting people in the community. “It’s so important to be able to help bring the community together. We’re not meant to be alone — we are healthier in a community.”
Christ Reformed United Church of Christ (304 E German St) holds a weekly worship service at 11 every Sunday. The church also welcomes community members to a regular schedule of activities throughout the month — a speaker series on the 1st Tuesday, a book club that meets on the 2nd Tuesday, a game night for kids, families and singles on the 3rd Friday, and movie night on the 4th Friday. Web: ChristReformedShepherdstown.org, FB: CRUCC Shepherdstown.By Steve Pearson