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The Shenandoah District of the Church of the Brethren, established in 1967 and presently consisting of over 100 churches and fellowships, covers a geographic area from Winchester in the north to Buena Vista in the south and from Albemarle County in the east to Dunmore, W. Va., in the west.


In the first century of the Church of the Brethren’s* existence, the word “district” was used to refer to the area served by a local congregation. However, as the church spread and grew, a number of factors led to the development of “districts” as we know them today. These factors included: the need to maintain unity and deal with problems which were arising as a result of expanding geographic areas and the increasing number of congregations; the need to reduce the growing number of queries going to Annual Conference; and the need to find a means for supporting the churches’ growing desire to carry on missionary work as they sought to fulfill the “Great Commission.”

As early as 1852, perhaps at the initiative of Virginia Brethren, a query was sent to Annual Meeting which led to Brethren’s “affirmation of responsibility” for activity in the field of missions. According to the Brethren Encyclopedia, the Annual Meeting of 1856 gave conditional approval to the formation of “districts of five, six, or more adjoining churches” in an effort to reduce the press of the Annual Meeting business. During the next decade, many such districts were formed across the brotherhood, and in 1866 the Annual Meeting gave final approval to principles and plans for district organization.

By the year 1919, there were 47 state districts, including 5 in foreign countries [two in India and one each in Denmark, Sweden, and China]. Otho Wenger, writing in 1919, concluded that the Annual Conference’s purpose of reducing the number of queries going to the Annual Conference had largely been fulfilled. But he also notes that “District Meetings have also become great centers of influence in creating sentiment for Sunday-schools, missions, education, relief work, etc.”


The formation of districts in the State of Virginia began when the Virginia churches held a District Meeting in 1859. This led, in 1866, to the establishment of two districts: the First Virginia District, with nine congregations, and the Second Virginia District, with twelve congregations. A brief summary of developments leading to the formation of the Shenandoah District follows:

In 1904, Second District appointed a committee to study dividing the district, which led to a 1908 District Conference recommendation that three districts be formed: Eastern, Northern, and Second. This recommendation was adopted in 1909 and implemented in 1910.

In 1956, questions of district realignment were again being raised by the Southeastern Regional Board. At about the same time, the 1958 Annual Conference received three queries regarding district realignment. In 1960, Annual Conference recommended that the number of districts in the brotherhood be reduced by consolidation.

In 1959, the Second District conference decided to explore possibilities of merging with the Northern District. This led to a joint recommendation to Second and Northern District Conferences in 1963 that the districts be merged by 1965. However, the two districts were not ready to lose their individual identity and the recommendation was defeated at both District Conferences.

Even though the proposed merger of the two districts was defeated, an administrative “Tri-District Field Program” was established on September 1, 1965, including Northern, Second, and Eastern Virginia. The success of this joint program brought new life to the merger movement and led to a joint conference of Second and Northern districts on April 2, 1967. At this conference, over 90% of the delegates voted for the merger of the two districts. Almost immediately, a “constituting conference” was held on May 20, when the present SHENANDOAH DISTRICT was organized. All of the congregations of the Second and Northern districts were included, along with six congregations and one fellowship from the Eastern District. This created a district covering 14 counties in Virginia and three counties in West Virginia.


District leadership at the beginning was provided by officers elected by district conference in cooperation with the district elders bodies. As district organization and program increased, paid professional leadership was employed. About 1950 I. C. Senger was secured as “fieldman” for Northern Virginia and Ernest Wampler was employed as Executive Secretary by Second Virginia. In 1954 Stanley R. Wampler was called as Executive Secretary for Northern Virginia. In 1958, Samuel H. Flora, Jr. was employed by Second District, continuing until 1963 when Ruby H. Linkous accepted the position as Administrative Secretary and served until the beginning of the Tri-district program.

When the Tri-district program began in 1965, involving Northern, Second, and Eastern Virginia districts, Stanley R. Wampler was employed as Executive Secretary, and Mildred F. Mundy was secured as Administrative Assistant. Both continued as staff for the Shenandoah District after its beginning in 1967. Following Stanley Wampler’s retirement in 1985, Merlin Shull served as District Executive until his retirement in 1992, when James E. Miller was employed as District Executive, where he served until retiring in June 2011. After the retirement of Mildred Mundy in 1976, assistant/associate staffing, varying between part- and full-time, has been provided by James E. Miller (1977-1981), Larry Glick, (1982-1998) and Joan Daggett, who was employed in 1998 and served as Associate District Executive for 13 years until her resignation in September 2011. Ron Wyrick served as interim District Executive from November 2011 until John N. Jantzi was called as District Executive Minister and began his tenure on Aug. 1, 2012. The District Office has been served by six secretaries/administrative assistants: Helen Shickel, Donna Gardner, Dorothy Coffman, Lisa Cook, Sandy Kinsey, Sarah Long, and Anita Landes, who currently co-serves as office manager with Sarah Long.

During its history, the Shenandoah District has provided its staff and congregations with a facility for ministry and mission. The first office facility, located on High Street in Harrisonburg, was used by the district from 1967 to 1979. The office then moved to a house adjacent to and rented from the Dayton Church of the Brethren. Recognizing the need for a larger facility, the District Board purchased the Pleasant Valley Church parsonage in 2002 and relocated its office to Weyers Cave.


At the present time (as of 2020), the Shenandoah District is composed of 105 churches and fellowships and has a total membership of 13,763 and an average worship attendance of 5,573. Total giving by the churches of the district amounts to $8,921,092. Of the 24 districts in the Church of the Brethren, the Shenandoah District has the largest number of churches, meeting places, and pastors. It ranks first in total membership and second in average worship attendance.

Consisting of 105 churches located in the counties of Frederick, Warren, Highland, Page, Shenandoah, Rockingham, Augusta, Rockbridge, Bath, Albemarle, Greene, Madison, Louisa, and Orange in Virginia and Pocahontas, Hardy, and Pendleton in West Virginia, the Shenandoah District is led by a nine-member Leadership Team. The board meets six times a year and is organized in ministry teams to carry out programs of ministry, stewardship, nurture, and witness.

From the comparative simplicity of the original needs which led to the organization of districts, the work of the district in the life of the Church has expanded greatly over the past century. Local congregations today work together through the district to carry on many programs which it would be impossible for them to do alone.

The Shenandoah District today provides leadership and assistance in many areas:

  • calling, licensing, training, ordaining, disciplining, and placing persons who are set apart for ministry;
  • providing a ministry of reconciliation for local congregations dealing with problem situations;
  • active Disaster Response network;
  • planning for a variety of approaches to leadership development;
  • supervising various Christian education opportunities, including programs of Brethren Woods Camp and Retreat Center;
  • supplying both information and materials meeting the resourcing needs of local congregations;
  • in general, working with and for the congregations of the district.

District organization in the Church of the Brethren, both historically and in the present, has developed and presently exists to enable the congregations of the district to be the Body of Christ in fulfilling the task of bringing to pass God’s Kingdom on earth.

[This summary was prepared by Fred M. Bowman, in December 2006; updates added in August 2020]

* {Prior to 1908, the Church of the Brethren was known as the “German Baptist Brethren”.}