A Brief Bio
Founded in 1831, Salem Presbyterian Church (SPC) has faithfully served Christ in the Roanoke Valley and in the world! One of the first Presbyterian churches in the Valley, we planted other Presbyterian churches in the area. A member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), we have a long and rich history of worship, Christian ministry, and service to the Lord.
For our family of faith, the center of congregational life is worship on Sunday morning, where we are inspired by the Word of God, joyfully read and proclaimed and uplifted by music and prayer. Children are welcome and actively participate in the Word with the Children during the service and in Children’s Worship.
SPC provides ministries and programs for Christian spiritual growth and service. These include Sunday School classes for all ages; Bible studies for youth and adults; special studies during Advent and Lent; Vacation Bible School; four active women’s circles; and weekday adult Bible studies.
We are blessed with a gifted and dedicated staff: Parish Nurse Kitty Beehner, Director of Music and organist Reed Carter, Associate Pastor Rev. Janet Chisom, Church Administrator Carlene Hickman, and Pastor/Head of Staff Rev. Dr. Will Robinson.
Our church facility includes a stately and historic sanctuary, columbarium with memorial wall, a 10,000 square foot education/office wing built in 2001, and the Marshall House, a house behind the church which houses Family Promise of Greater Roanoke, a faith-based ministry to homeless families in the community.
“Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there with them” (Matthew 18:20). Believing this promise of our Lord, twenty-nine Christians gathered in his name in 1831 to become the first members of SPC. In 1852, a new sanctuary was dedicated, and Christians have worshiped in it ever since. Indeed, worship is the heart of our faith, knowing that to “gather with God’s people in united adoration of the Father is as necessary to the Christian life as prayer” (Protestant Reformer Martin Luther).
From day one, SPC has also been committed to Bible study, spiritual formation, and exploring our faith through Christian education and fellowship. The first Sunday School in Salem, which met in the Methodist Church because it was the only church building in Salem at the time, included Presbyterians. Later, SPC established its own “Sabbath School” (Sunday School) and over the years has expanded its education space. Today, classes, small groups, and fellowship opportunities for all ages and stages of life and faith meet on Sundays and throughout the week, at the church, in people’s homes, and elsewhere.
Christians are called to love God and our neighbors, and this Greatest Commandment of our Lord has fueled SPC’s mission and outreach since its founding. An 1841 session (the governing body of Presbyterian churches) resolution declares SPC’s commitment to helping spread the Gospel so others can know God’s love and grace. That commitment is apparent in churches SPC’s planted, such as First Evangelical Presbyterian in Roanoke and New Life Presbyterian in Salem. It’s also evident in our work with local organizations such as Family Promise (its Day Center is housed in SPC’s Marshall House), the Salem-Roanoke County Food Pantry, and the Roanoke Rescue Mission.
Several of SPC’s current outreach endeavors are partnerships with other entities, including the Salem Volunteer Garden (on SCP-owned land in partnership with the City of Salem), LEAP (a literacy and academic enrichment program for students in the community housed at SPC in partnership with Roanoke College), CEDEPCA (a Christian organization in Guatemala), and Serving His Children (a Christian ministry that fights malnutrition in Uganda). In addition, since 1991 SPC has hosted our Community Thanksgiving Dinner, and we’ve held several Community Service Blitzes the past few years.
That first congregation of twenty-nine members is now an active and faithful congregation of about 500. Like our SPC forebears, we are committed to worshiping the Lord, growing in faith and fellowship, and loving and serving people in Jesus’ name—both near and far.
Although the earliest history of SPC is obscured by the lack of written records, there’s evidence of Presbyterian services and meetings held in the Salem area before 1800. John Craig, an early and famous apostle of Presbyterianism in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, preached at a location east of Salem as early as 1749. In about 1802, the Ebenezer Church was built a few miles east of Salem on the site of the former New Antrim Church at Peters Creek.
The Salem Church was founded in June of 1831 when the Ebenezer Church and the Catawba Union Church united to form a new congregation in the growing town of Salem. A building was completed in 1833 on the site of what is now the Old Academy Street school.
During the pastorate of Urias Powers, our present church site was purchased in 1851. Our sanctuary was erected that year and dedicated in 1852. The appearance of the exterior of the sanctuary remains essentially the same today with the exception of the church tower and the green wooden shutters which have been removed from the windows.
Ten years after the sanctuary was built, the Civil War began. The Rev. Lindsay Hughes Blanton, pastor from 1861-1868, also served as chaplain in the Confederate army. The time of Blanton’s pastorate was perhaps the “darkest, stormiest and saddest time” of the church’s history, evidenced by the removal of former slaves from church membership. Following the war, Dr. Blanton went to Kentucky and raised funds to repair the church building which included removing slave galleries running down each side of the sanctuary, lowering the “high pulpit” and lengthening the sanctuary by 20 feet.
The arrival of the Rev. Leroy Gresham as pastor in 1909 began a new period of educational ministry. A church school building at the rear of the sanctuary was added in 1914. An enlargement and remodeling of this addition was made in 1941. During this period, the Salem Church began the Wildwood Chapel which later became New Hope Presbyterian Church, which still exists today.
A new pipe organ was installed, and changes were made in the choir loft in 1953, early in the pastorate of Dr. Elwood Vaughan. Later that year and again in 1956, several properties to the north of the church, fronting on Market and Clay Streets, were acquired. In 1957 and 1958 the present educational building which houses Gresham Fellowship Hall was constructed. The sanctuary was also remodeled and further enlarged to increase the seating capacity.
The 1980s and early 1990s saw an expansion of outreach ministries. During the pastorate of the Rev. Fred Webb, we first worked with Habitat for Humanity. In 1991, we hosted our first Thanksgiving Dinner for the “Alones and Needy.” These emphases continued during the ministry of the Rev. Dean Lindsey as we became a host congregation for the Interfaith Hospitality Network in 1998. The congregation also responded generously to the great human need in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and 2006.
Ministries of music have thrived in these latter years, as well. Longtime SPC Organist Carlton Collins retired in 1992. The music program continued to be ably led by Glenna Fisher, Jean Potts, and Garnett Carroll. In 2000, the chancel area of the sanctuary was re-oriented and a new organ console was installed. We have fabulous choirs, including a bell choir and choirs for children and youth. In 2006 our Chancel Choir performed in Carnegie Hall in New York City. All of our music ministry is led by our Director of Music and organist Reed Carter.
A growth in educational and fellowship needs led to the construction of Millennium Hall in 2000, a large project of renovation and expansion. Prior to that, in 1994, Round Table began under the guidance of Director of Christian Education, Pat Kirk. In 2006, we welcomed an associate pastor, Janet Chisom, who is leading us in new ventures in education and outreach
In 2002, Session approved the addition of a Parish Nurse Ministry, led by Kitty Beehner. With an RN trained in pastoral care on staff, we are better able to meet the needs of those hospitalized, homebound, elderly, or facing spiritual challenges through regular visitation, support, health education, and prayer.
Our current pastor, the Dr. Will Robinson, joined us in 2009, coming from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, where he earned his Ph.D. in Biblical Studies in 2015. Before his call to graduate studies at Union, Will served in Presbyterian churches in Indianapolis and Tulsa.
Observance of our 175th anniversary began in 2005 with the recognition of long-time members Rome Tuttle, Jim Taney, and Charlotte Oakey. A special weekend of celebrations was held in June of 2006, featuring music, historical skits, and prayers of thanksgiving for our rich heritage. The Rev. Dr. Tom Long, professor at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology (at the time), preached, and we also began a Video History Project so that the stories of our past can be shared with the church of the future.
We invite you to help us write the next chapters in the life and mission of our historic congregation!
Life of the Church
The center of congregational life at Salem Presbyterian Church (SPC) is worship on Sunday at 11:00 AM. Our worship is to the glory of God and is open to all. In worship we hear God’s Word proclaimed in Scripture, sermon, sacraments, and song.
Through prayer and the Holy Spirit, we know the one true God revealed in Jesus Christ, we are inspired by the Word of God, and we are uplifted by music and prayer. All believers are invited to acknowledge and experience God’s grace in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Children and youth are welcome in worship and actively participate through the music ministry, the Word with the Children during the service, in Children’s Worship, and on Youth Sunday and through worship leadership at other times.
Each Sunday before worship, there is a time of fellowship at 10:30 AM in Gresham Hall. There is also an opportunity for fellowship in Gresham Hall after worship with coffee served indoors or lemonade served on the lawn.
Children’s Ministry includes special care for the youngest members of SPC:
Nursery (Infants–Age 3)
A crib nursery and two pre-school nurseries are available for the Lord’s littlest lambs during Sunday School and worship.
Crib Nursery – For children under two years of age, we provide this nursery under the supervision of paid, certified caretakers (and adult volunteers as needed) both during Sunday School and worship.
Toddler/Preschool Nursery – During Sunday School, preschool children attend their own class. During worship a nursery for three-year-olds is provided; it is staffed by a paid, certified caretaker (and adult volunteers as needed).
Children’s Worship (Kindergarten-5th Grade)
After the Word with the Children in worship, children are invited to have their own worship time, led by parents of the children and other church members. The activities are based on lessons about the season of the church year, worship education, and other topics which enhance the faith development of young children.
Our mission, inspired by God through the Holy Spirit, is to be a visible sign of God’s love for all people by sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed, so that all people may come to know Him as Lord and Savior.
As we seek to fulfill our mission, Salem Presbyterian Church (SPC) extends:
An invitation to worship God with us. Our worship is to the glory of God and is open to all. We hear the Word of God proclaimed in Scripture, sermon, and song. Through God’s Word, prayer and the Holy Spirit, we know the one true God revealed in Jesus Christ. All believers are invited to acknowledge and experience God’s grace in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Christ’s call to salvation and discipleship. We call on all to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and to live joyfully in the knowledge of the daily presence of Christ and the assurance of His salvation. We encourage all persons to follow Jesus Christ by living and proclaiming the Good News of His love and salvation.
An invitation to grow through Christian education. God reveals Himself in the Bible, which provides the authoritative standard for learning about, understanding the meaning of, and growing in Christian faith. The purpose of our Christian education ministry is to know the content of the Bible, to understand our experiences and relationships in light of the Bible, to provide a standard for moral conduct and to pass on to succeeding generations the knowledge of the truth and the salvation offered by God in Christ.
A call to serve. We are a community of Christian disciples who seek to serve the Lord and others in His name, especially the voiceless, powerless, and those in need. We encourage you to join us in witnessing to the love and peace of God by ministering to the least and last in society, by visiting the sick and those in prison, by comforting the bereaved, by befriending the stranger, and by working for peace and justice throughout the world.
An invitation to membership. The pastor and associate pastor are available to discuss the meaning and duties of church membership. SPC’s session receives members by affirmation of faith, reaffirmation of faith and letter of transfer from another church. Also, we offer an “affiliate membership” to people who are residing temporarily in our community and wish to retain their permanent membership elsewhere.
Salem Presbyterian Church is governed by two separate bodies which oversee the different committees of the church: Session and Diaconate.
The Session is charged with maintaining the spiritual government of the Church. Its duties and responsibilities are defined by the Book of Order. Its membership is composed of the Pastor and eighteen ruling elders who are elected for three-year terms, a class or group of six being elected each year. The Pastor is the moderator of the Session.
The Session is organized into four committees to facilitate its ministry: Christian Education; Administration (Nominating, Personnel, and Stewardship and Finance); Facilities and Planning; Worship and Music.
The Diaconate, or Board of Deacons, is responsible for the Church’s ministry of compassion and service. The duties and responsibilities of the deacons are set forth in the Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order. The Diaconate is under the supervision and authority of the Session and consists of eighteen elected deacons who are elected for three-year terms, a class of six being elected each year.
The eighteen deacons are organized into four committees to facilitate their ministry. These committees are Communication and Membership; Nurture and Fellowship; Outreach and Mission; and Church Services and Functions.
What is a Presbyterian?
Salem Presbyterian Church is a church in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Presbyterians are distinguished by our custom of choosing elders (“presbuteros” in the New Testament) to lead and guide the church. This representative form of government was, to an extent, the pattern for our nation’s government.
Presbyterians are “people of the Book.” We believe the Bible to be God’s Word. We study it, it forms the center of our worship, and we seek to live in such a way as to express its meaning and relevancy for today.
Presbyterian doctrine is outlined in our Book of Confessions — a collection of faith statements dating from the third-century Apostles’ Creed. Presbyterian government is contained in our Book of Order.
Presbyterians trace our historical roots to Jesus Christ and the Apostles, as described in the New Testament. John Calvin was called “the father of Presbyterianism” during the Reformation, and much of his theology is at the heart of the Reformed theological tradition of which we are a part. Settlers in America during the American Revolution brought the Presbyterian Church with them from their native lands.
Presbyterians believe in a triune God, whom we call “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” — our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.
Presbyterians recognize two sacraments: Baptism unites us with Christ and his church, and since the water is symbolic, can be done by effusion (“sprinkling”) or immersion (in a body of water). The Lord’s Supper renews and nourishes us with Christ’s spiritual presence as we gather around his table and celebrate him as our host and Savior.
Presbyterians emphasize the priesthood of all believers. All members are encouraged to join the pastors in compassionate ministry and mission. Pastors and laity serve together in mission and in worship.
Presbyterians encourage constant prayer, regular Bible reading and study, active worship of the Lord, love of neighbors, and a passion for justice.