In December 2006, the majority of worshipers at The Falls Church Episcopal decided to disaffiliate from the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and the National Church. However, a number of us felt, for a variety of reasons, called to start worshipping again as Episcopalians. Without access to our church building, we met in the living room of our home on a frigid Sunday in January 2007. An Episcopal Navy Chaplin came and oversaw our first service.
We elected a vestry, held communion, and shared our sadness that we could no longer worship as a group in our beloved church but also our joy that we were creating a new thing in Jesus Christ.
Word got around that we were meeting as Episcopalians and the second Sunday more people came. By the third week, we had too many to sit in our house so my husband called the Falls Church Presbyterian minister Tom Schmid, to ask if there was any possibility of using a space at their church. A kind man, Tom said he and his leadership were waiting for our call and he immediately offered us his loft space overlooking their Fellowship Hall. We moved in the next week!
These last five and half years have been challenging but also tremendously gratifying. In the early days of this new journey, we had nothing but our small group and our faith that we were doing the right thing in God’s eyes. We were grateful for our Episcopal friends around Northern Virginia who gave us prayer books, altar linens and communion service items. As we had no offices, our ministers worked out of their cars. We would laughingly call our church “a church in a box” since we had to unpack and pack up every Sunday in the lovely but limited space we had, used by other groups throughout the week.
We shared coffee hour with our friends at the Presbyterian Church, and gradually joined with them in outreach programs to the community and Vacation Bible School. They will always be our friends in Christ.
Over the years, we have become a vibrant 200-plus congregation whose members include energetic families, young couples and our wise seniors such as 98-year-old Jesse Thackery, first female Senior Warden of The Falls Church. Some of our newer members had never worshipped at the historic Falls Church. We are all together now as “a welcoming group of believers whose message is one of trust in the hope-filled promises of Jesus Christ, love for one another, and service to the community.” As scripture says, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body.” (I Corinthians 12: 12-13).
On Easter Sunday, nearly four hundred of us gathered on a glorious day to worship. Although the courts had decided that the departing group should return our buildings, the deadline for that change was still three weeks away so we appreciated greatly the offer by the Falls Church CANA to celebrate in the historic church. It was wonderful to sit in the comfortable smoothness of the old wooden pews, to hear the gorgeous sounds of the organ and the rich voices of the choir, the laughter of the children hunting for Easter Eggs after the service and the friendly banter of hundreds of people sharing the joy of our Lord’s resurrection. That day gave us the hope that we would again return in full as Episcopal stewards of God’s house.
Late last Friday Judge Bellows of the Fairfax Circuit Court rejected the request of TFC CANA to stay in the building pending final appeal. The Episcopalians will be returning to our historic home in two weeks, with our first service on May 20. The CANA leadership has been very helpful in making this transition. We know it will be enormously difficult for them. Many are leaving the church they have called home for decades. We know exactly how it feels.
Thanks to so many who supported us over this time. Thanks to neighbors and friends who visited us on Sunday mornings. Thanks to neighboring Episcopal churches that provided us with the “things” needed for worship. Thanks especially to the Falls Church Presbyterian who opened up their doors so that we could worship week after week, even when it inconvenienced their own worship services. Thanks to the Falls Church News-Press, which fairly presented our story.
We move back to our church with grateful and humble hearts. We will continue, under the leadership of our inspiring parish priest, Cathy Tibbetts, to grow anew. And we will be holding on to the core Christian values we felt five and a half years ago. All are welcome, all are loved, all are accepted.
Robin Fetsch is a longtime member of The Falls Church Episcopal Church.