Mount Olivet has a long and rich history with beginnings dating back to October 22, 1847. On that date at a meeting house called old Bethlehem in Hanover County, forty people met to constitute a new church and after a sermon by Rev. James Lawrence Reynolds, the name of Mt. Olivet was decided upon and adopted. William J. Carpenter and Hugh Campbell were elected as deacons and Williamson Talley was elected clerk and treasurer. Eight days later plans were begun to build a proper meeting house. February 17, 1849 marked the completion of the building at a cost of $2,200.00. By January of 1870, the debt for the building was paid for or forgiven.
In August of 1848, Mount Olivet joined the Dover Baptist Association and sent $2.00 as its first contribution. One year later several new staff members were elected to help lead the church. These were a president of the “Mt Olivet Missionary and Bible Society” and a Sunday School Superintendent. The first pastor was voted on July 22, 1849. Rev. Martin T. Sumner preached once a month until July 1850 when he then began preaching two Sundays a month at a salary of $300.00 a year.
The membership in December 1853 was 299 which included “those of color”. Both races worshipped together until 1865 when a resolution passed dismissing the Blacks and “discharging (them) from all their obligations to the church” and left them free to “act for themselves in the premises.” After this action, the membership dropped to 84. Today the membership is just over 500.
The original building served the church’s needs for many years. In fact, the original sanctuary still is the meeting place for our worship services. In 1950, more space was needed and two wings were added to the back of the church. In 1967, a new educational building was constructed. In March 1992, the facility was officially named the Edwin M. and Elizabeth V. Vaughan Educational Building honoring the ministry of Mount Olivet’s native son who was ordained by the church in 1928. (In 2012, the church voted to include Edwin’s sister’s name to the plaque, recognizing Phyllis Vaughan’s significant service to the church.)
Mount Olivet has grown in the last couple of decades, requiring a new educational facility which was dedicated on August 21, 1994. This new 13,838 square foot building includes seventeen new Sunday School class rooms, a larger social hall, a baptistery, expanded kitchen facilities and more storage space. In September of 2002, an office complex (The Wallace and Vernell Carr Building) was dedicated. The Carr Building connects the original sanctuary to the new education building – providing office space for staff members, a church parlor, and a conference room.
A church is more than just the building, however. We at Mount Olivet strive to look beyond ourselves to the needs of the world here in our backyard as well as those far away. From that first two dollars given in 1848, we now rank in the top 100 churches in Virginia in per capita giving through the Cooperative Program. We give not only our money, but our time and talents through various ministries of the church to help those in need. Striving to be faithful, we pray as the psalmist prayed:
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)