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In December 1784, American Methodists broke their ties to England and formed the Methodist Episcopal Church. A few months earlier, a Methodist Society was formed in what is now Union, West Virginia by Methodist emigrants from the east. For its first two years, the Society met in a school house. As more settlers came west, the Society grew, and traveling preachers included it on their regular circuits.

In 1786, Edward Keenan, a Roman Catholic sympathetic to the Methodists, gave the Society a plot of land for a church. He also wrote Francis Asbury requesting a preacher for the Society.

Rehoboth Church was built on Keenan’s donated land. A log structure, it had a gallery and measured about 12 by 29 feet; as small as it was, it was larger than the homes where the settlers had been meeting.

On July 5-6, 1788, Francis Asbury ordained John Smith as a deacon in Rehoboth Church; it was the first Methodist ordination west of the Alleghenies. Smith was the first circuit rider assigned to the territory, and Rehoboth was the heart of his circuit.

Asbury’s journal indicates he conducted three conferences at Rehoboth Church (1792, 1793, 1796). He preached in the church in 1790 and 1797, as well. Two of his journal entries read as follows:

“Thursday, July 15, 1790: Rode to Rehoboth, where brother Whatcoat preached, and brother Jeremiah Abel and myself spoke after him, and the people appeared somewhat affected.

Friday, May 24, 1793: Came to Rehoboth, in the sinks of Green Briar; where we held our conference. I was greatly comforted at the sight of brothers B.J. and Ellis Cox. We had peace in our conference, and were happy in our cabin.”

Other pioneers of early American Methodism also preached at Rehoboth, including Jesse Lee, Freeborn Garrettson, William McKendree, and Beverly Waugh.

Rehoboth Church hosted regular preaching for over a century. West Virginia Methodists have always been mindful of the building’s historic importance as the oldest extant Protestant church edifice west of the Allegheny mountains.

Points of interest at this Heritage Landmark: The church and museum are on a five acre site. Visitors will see the original structure and furnishings. The building has been placed under a wood canopy to give it some protection from the elements.

Edward Keenan’s tombstone is near the church.

The museum displays artifacts which tell the story of Rehoboth and Methodism in West Virginia.

Special events: TBA

Area attractions: Union is just west of the Allegheny Mountains, near several state parks. Roanoke, Virginia is southeast and Charleston, West Virginia is northwest.

To visit:   The church building and museum are open April 1 through October 31, Thursday through Saturday, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sundays from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Groups planning visits should contact Anita Tracy, Resident Director (contact info below) ahead of time. If you would like to visit during a time not indicated above, please call Anita Tracy to set up an appointment.

Location: Within the boundaries of the West Virginia Annual Conference, in Monroe County. The church is about two miles east of Union.

Food and lodging: There are restaurants and motels in Lewisburg, about twenty miles north of Union on Rt. 219.

Directions: Take Interstate 64 west from Lexington, Virginia to Lewisburg. From Lewisburg travel Route 219 south to Union.

Alternatively, take Interstate 79 South from Morgantown, West Virginia to Mt. Lookout. Then take Route 60 east through Rainelle to Lewisburg; then proceed south on Route 219 to Union. Proceed along West Virginia Route 3; about two miles east of Union a marker will direct you along a gravel road to the church.

For further information, contact: Anita Tracy, 186 Old Rehoboth Church Rd, Union, WV 24983; 304-389-8840; E-mail:

To learn more about United Methodist church history in this area:

West Virginia Annual Conference Archives, West Virginia Wesleyan College Library, 59 College Ave., Buckhannon, WV 26101; 304-304-473-8601; Brett Miller or Carol Bowman, Archivists.

Carl E. Burrows, Melting Times: A History of West Virginia United Methodism (Charleston, WV: Commission on Archives and History, West Virginia Conference, United Methodist Church, 1984).