Campbell Memorial Presbyterian Church in Vinton will celebrate its 125th anniversary on Sunday, October 29.
Pastor James Smith and the congregation invite the community to celebrate along with them at a special service at 11 a.m. that day which will feature guest speaker the Rev. Carl Utley, the Transitional General Presbyter of the Presbytery of the Peaks. The choir and bell choir will present special music. The service will be followed by a luncheon “to enjoy fellowship and companionship in each other.” Past ministers and former members who have moved away have been invited.
Campbell Presbyterian is a member of the Presbytery of the Peaks, an organization of about 133 Presbyterian congregations extending from the Blue Ridge Mountains to Southside Virginia with over 17,500 members.
The church had its beginnings in the downtown Vinton business district on the corner of Maple Street and Lee Avenue in April 1892, originally named “Vinton Presbyterian Church.” A church history indicates that it was one of nine new Presbyterian churches “spun off” from what was then Roanoke Presbyterian Church (now First Presbyterian) under the leadership of Dr. William Creighton Campbell between 1891 and 1924.
Dr. Campbell, then just starting his career, became well known as “a remarkable man– pastor, preacher, colonizer, and civic leader.” He came to the Roanoke area in 1892 just in time for Big Lick to be renamed Roanoke and Big Lick Presbyterian to become Roanoke Presbyterian.
He requested that an evangelist be sent to help organize a church and Sunday School in Vinton, then a “growing, working class suburb of Roanoke, and a mixture of farmers, railroad workers, and merchants,” connected to Roanoke by a trolley.
Construction began in the fall of 1892; the new church, seating 250, was dedicated the next spring.
One parishioner remembers that there was a little wood stove down front in the church; the choir was behind the pulpit, with one organist and about a dozen members.
The first pastor was the Rev. W.H. Groves. In the late 1940s the congregation voted to change the name of the church to Campbell Memorial Presbyterian to honor the man “most responsible for its founding.”
Church history indicates that the congregation did not increase as expected early on; however, in the 1950s that changed and the small building could not handle the needs of the congregation as Vinton and East County were expanding rapidly. The church was hemmed in by the booming downtown business area, with no room to expand and little parking space. It was also 70 years old and not in good repair.
The Rev. Robert Ledbetter is credited with sparking the new growth at Campbell.
The congregation voted in 1963 to purchase land on Hardy Road to build a new church; construction began the next year. The first service was held there on Easter Sunday, 1965. Church membership began a steady growth that continues today. A new addition was built in 2009.
Jamie Smith has been the pastor at Campbell Presbyterian since 2011. He describes his congregation as a very mission-oriented church. He says he may be biased, but he doesn’t know of many churches in which “95 percent of the congregation is invested in the ministries of the church. They don’t just show up on Sundays; they are involved the rest of the week in missions, reaching out to the community and the world.”
The members support the Presbyterian Community Center in southeast Roanoke. They collect canned foods, soups, and crackers for the needy for “Souper Bowl Sunday” in a competition between two teams who vote for their Super Bowl favorite with canned goods. Last year they collected 1,500 items.
The church supports the Presbyterian Children’s Home of the Highlands located in Wytheville, where Campbell member Tom Gisiner serves on the board of directors. The children’s home accepts children on a long-term or short-term basis from agencies within Virginia from Roanoke to Abingdon who are unable to adapt to foster homes; it currently houses 16 children.
They contribute to the Sassy Stitchers in Vinton who make and distribute quilts to those in need, such as victims of the recent hurricanes.
The church reaches out to fund many projects and needs through their “two cents a meal” policy which asks the congregation to donate two cents a meal, which equals six cents a day, and $1.86 per member per month for benevolent causes.
Campbell Presbyterian contributes to the Vinton First Aid Crew and adopts Angel Tree and Presbyterian Community Center children at Christmas providing gifts and food.
Church history shows that the original Vinton Presbyterian organized the very first Vacation Bible School in Vinton. In the past two years the church has reached out to the local community by holding a Children’s Day Camp including children from the Presbyterian Community Center in a program which included not just traditional Bible school activities, but field trips to the zoo and Explore Park, along with “feeding the children really well.”
They bring in special speakers involved in missions, foreign or local. Recently students from the Appalachian Teen Challenge program in Fincastle, which supports abused girls through a Christian discipleship training program, presented a program on their community mission.
The church coordinates with other churches in the area for special projects and invites individuals and organizations to use their facilities for meetings, music programs, and weddings.
Campbell Presbyterian has also “spun off” a church itself– Peace Presbyterian near Bonsack.
On the national level they support charities for the Lakota Indians in Pine Ridge, S.D., sent teams after Hurricane Katrina, and raise funds for catastrophes in foreign lands through Presbyterian National Relief.
Pastor Smith and the Celebration Committee say a great deal of hard work has gone into planning their 125th anniversary festivities to celebrate not just their history, but their community presence.
They have held an ice cream social and a music festival of gospel music. They have even commissioned mementos of the occasion with a Cat’s Meow of the church and a print of the original church and newer church buildings.
Members of the Celebration Committee include Pastor Smith, Brian and Mary Butler, Tom Gisiner, Lynn Andrews, Lynne Kilburn, Bob Young, and Monaye McQuade.
The committee says that for 125 years, Campbell has been offering Christian outreach to the community in every way possible, meeting the immediate needs of the community, “on short notice just because it’s the right thing to do. We can’t fix everyone’s lives, but we can try to make them better.”
They look for ways to serve locally, nationally, and internationally as “a little beacon of light, a ray of hope, to celebrate the gifts God has given us.”
Campbell Presbyterian is known as a “multi-generational” family and extended family church. Gisiner has been a member since 1964, but his wife started out in the church when it was located downtown. One family has five generations who have been members at Campbell and still attend each Sunday.
The staff of the church includes Pastor Smith, music director Dan Plybon, secretary Jeanette Burroughs, and pianist Karen Carter.
Campbell Memorial Presbyterian holds one service each Sunday at 11 a.m., a traditional service with traditional music. There is Sunday School for all ages at 9:45. More information on their church and its missions can be found on their Facebook page at “CMPC2.”