Camp Luther ... Vespers Knoll cross

Are you ready for an adventure?

Are you ready for an adventure? That's what we offer in the West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod. Ministry and life on our mountains and in our valleys is not for everyone, but, for some, it is a very good life, filled with the opportunity to serve God and enjoy the blessings to be found among the people of God in the midst of some of the most beautify country in the America. Read on.

                MapThe Synod

WV-WMD numbers 56 congregations in settings ranging from an urban center with a population just under 50,000 to intensely (and remotely) rural. Roughly 75% of the congregations are in small town and rural settings; nearly 40% of these congregations are in multiple-point parishes. Our oldest congregations are over 250 years old; our youngest congregation, under 6 years.

The synod has congregations in West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia. Except for our one Virginian congregation, it lies entirely inside the federally defined Appalachian region. The merger that created the ELCA, took congregations from four different synods/districts representing both the LCA and the ALC. Roughly half those congregations, however, were once part of the West Virginia Synod of the ULCA. Camp Luther, which was founded during the ULCA period, is an important unifier, drawing roughly 300 campers ranging from 3rd grade through 12th attending for a single week of camp; the counseling and teaching staff is entirely volunteer with strong clergy participation.

The entirety of the synod staff is the bishop (in the seventh year of his bishopric) and a half-time DEM (in her second year of service).

The Land

As mentioned, all but one congregation is inside the federally defined Appalachian region. That definition, however, is more political than geographical. Our easternmost congregation is in the Blue Ridge, the Appalachian Trail running through its town. Moving westward, seven congregations lie in the Shenandoah Valley. Beyond that, we have thirteen congregations in the Ridge & Valley system, a region marked with long parallel and densely forested ridge lines and narrow valleys of predominantly flat agricultural land. The Appalachian Plateau takes up most of our territory. Most of it may be described as labyrinthine, fast-running streams and rivers snaking crazily through densely forested mountains. There are, however, some large valley systems here as well, the Ohio being the largest, with its tributaries, the Mon-Tygart and the Kanawha-New, providing spaces for both agriculture and industry.

John Denver may have made "Mountain Mama" a popular description of the region, but the rivers are the lifeblood of the mountains. The Potomac, Mon, Cheat, Tygart, Yough, Greenbrier, Kanawha, Elk, Gauley, Blackwater, and others all begin in WV-WMD. The rivers defined where we farmed, built communities, and traveled. It is the interaction of the rivers and the mountains that shape our daily lives. One's river valley does more to identify the community that one claims as one's own than the mountains, which is something to "cross" in order to get to the next community.

The story of the people in the land is one of dependency upon it. The Native Americans in the interior of the territory depended largely upon hunting and gathering, along the great rivers. The Mound Builders, however, were largely agricultural, and they constructed important urban centers. The early European settlers first entered the Shenandoah and Ridge-Valley (also the Garret Plateau) in the colonial period, establishing farms and their attendant small towns. Timber and coal resulted in another wave of settlement, centering on extraction, and, in the twentieth century, a new form of extraction, the chemical industry, exploded along the main rivers of the Ohio watershed. Now, in this century, horizontal fracturing has ushered in a third wave of extraction. Connected to each of these land-based economies, one finds our urban centers, the livelihood of which was rooted in the land-based economy. Mixed in with this throughout our history have always been those who came to the mountains to leave behind the more densely populated parts of America.

The land is not only our livelihood; it is also our recreation. Rafting, rock climbing, hunting, fishing, hiking, motorcycling, off-roading, sanging, etc., etc., etc., are by no means exhaustive of the opportunities. Our West Virginia State Parks and Maryland State Parks have mauch to offer wether you want to be active or just enjoy a little rest. Did we mention that the motorcycling is phenomenal, with twists and turns through scenic country, and the more daring might enjoy tackling the newly established Mid-Atlantic BDR runs the entire length of our Eastern Panhandle.

Arts & Culture

The territory is also known for the arts. Music ranging from Bluegrass to the Symphony are found here. Mountain Stage is a nationally broadcast radio show, featuring an eccletic offering of live performance music. Theatre is alive and well. Painters, photographers, and sculptors all draw inspiration from the land and its people. Mountain crafts preserve old ways and explore new possibilities.


If you have gotten this far, you are probably interested in some numbers.

In 2017, the largest congregation had an average Sunday attendance of 188; the smallest congregation, 5. Aggregate weekly attendance was 2460, representing 23.7% of baptized membership. ELCA baptized membership represents roughly 0.5% of the territory’s population. Looking at just West Virginia, the bulk of our territory, the state population peaked in 1950. Nevertheless, the ARDA report on the 2010 census places the “unclaimed” by any religious group at over 65.4% of state population.

Most of our congregations fit into one of three types, each type representing a slice of Central Appalachian history with its own cultural and religious markers---in other words, the territory is not a monoculture:
  • Colonial to Pre-Great War Agricultural: Often founded by Pennsylvania Germans coming into the territory to farm, but there are some county seat congregations in this class as well. Some of these congregations have parishioners who can trace their ancestry back to the first Lutheran settlers in their respective valleys.
  • Extractive Industry: These congregations sprung up as coal and timber changed the economy of Central Appalachia. Some service city (rail, financial, and legal hub) congregations also fall into this class.
  • Steel & Chemical: The oldest of these were planted as steel moved into our territory. The later congregations were planted with the rise of the chemical industry.
Aggregate mission support per capita weekly worship attendance was $171.70, and non-mission support benevolence per capita was $174.37. Regular giving per capita was $1754.82. Per capita mission support vs. regular giving was 9.8%. Per capita operating expense, which was $1990.07, exceeded per capita regular giving by $235.83. It should be noted that WV-WMD has remained in the top tier of the ELCA for mission support per capita despite being in the bottom tier for median family income by census tract.


We expect to continue working on this page, adding more flesh to it. In the meantime, we invite your questions. Please feel free to contact Bishop Riegel by email ( or phone (304-363-4030).

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Last updated: 23 November 2021