Gethsemane traces it history back to September, 1894, when two different congregations were formed in Virginia. Immigrants from Sweden and Finland, drawn to the area to work in the mines and the sawmills and desiring to worship God in their native languages, organized themselves into churches.
Twenty Finns gathered at Maria Mattson Hall on September 9, 1894, and founded Sumalainen Evangeli Luther Kirkko, later called Zion Lutheran Church. On September 30, the first pastor, Rev. Henry Sarvela, was called. Work on a church building began in 1896 and was completed in 1897. The building still stands on the 200 block of Second Avenue North. Dedication of the building took place in October, 1903. The first Ladies Aid was formed in 1899. Independent in its early years, the congregation joined the Suomi Synod in 1916.
The organizational meeting for Svenska Lutherska Mamre Forsamlingen, or First Lutheran Church, took place on September 12, 1894, at Charles Gronberg’s store. The Ladies Aid Society, always a strength of the church, was formed earlier on February 13, 1894, at the home of Mrs. John Peterson. The Swedish congregation began building a church in 1895 on 4th Avenue and Third Street South. The first worship service was held in the new church on All Saints’ Day, November 3, 1896. In 1899, Rev. P.O. Hanson became the first resident pastor.
By the 1940’s, leaders at First Lutheran Church came to realize that a new building would better serve the congregation and community. A site was purchased on 9th Avenue between 3rd and 4th Streets South. Architectural drawings were prepared in 1954 and fund drives were initiated. Ground breaking for the new church took place on June 25, 1956, with Rev. N. E. Vickberg turning the first shovel. The dedication of the new building took place on July 12, 1958.
The architecture is reflective of the Christian Faith. The native stone of the walls signifies the permanence of God’s Word. The columns that support the roof over the nave remind us of the twelve apostles, and the four columns supporting the chancel roof symbolize the four gospels of the New Testament. The Holy Trinity is represented by the three carillon bells and also by the three altar supports.
When both congregations became part of the Lutheran Church in America in 1962, joining together seemed faithful. In March, 1963, both churches voted to merge together and utilize the new First Lutheran building. The two councils met together and scheduled May 16, 1963, as the date for incorporating the new congregation. Reflective of the enclosed garden and the surrounding rock of the sanctuary, the new name chosen was Gethsemane Evangelical Lutheran Church. In 1987, Gethsemane became a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.