It was on Easter Sunday morning in April 2012 that the historic chapel on the campus of The Falls Church Episcopal Church was filled to overflowing and the return of the rightful Episcopalian congregation to that campus was confirmed. It was a six-year hiatus for that congregation, locked out of their property by an insurgency of contrarians who voted to split with the Episcopal Church U.S.A. to start a new denomination.
But that is now history, and this spring marks the fifth anniversary since the persevering “continuing Episcopalian” congregants who held forth with weekly worship across the street in the hospitable Falls Church Presbyterian Church’s fellowship hall.
Marking that anniversary, those “continuing Episcopalians” have rebuilt their membership, starting with 60 families five years ago and now holding twice-weekly Sunday services with an average of 150 at each, according to its rector, the Rev. John Ohmer, who has led the congregation over the entire five year period.
The church has launched an outreach to the wider community, hosting a refugee family from the Kurdish section of Iraq in collaboration with Falls Church’s Homestretch non-profit organization, and in February this year dedicated a plaque that now sits at the entrance to the pathway to the historic chapel which acknowledges and repents for the enslaved persons “whose skills and labor helped build The Falls Church.”
Dating back to the 1700s, the historic church was established as a mission of the Alexandria Episcopal Church where George Washington was a vestryman. During the Civil War, the historic chapel was occupied by both the North and South at different times and was used as a hospital.
There is a graveyard on the site that includes the tomb of the Union’s John Read, who tutored young black children before he was singled out by Confederate forces to be killed.
In the past decade, the persevering Episcopalians who now have occupied their church for the last five years stood against reactionary policies of the contrarians who opposed LGBT rights and the ordination of women.
Now, they have set out to survey the entire Falls Church community to discover what people in all walks here consider the City’s greatest unmet need. The parishioners follow that up with a concerted effort to address the need in its entirety.
The church hosted an active table at the Memorial Day Festival Monday to commence its survey. The Rev. John Ohmer contributed a guest commentary to the June 1 edition of the News-Press and was interviewed by the News-Press’ Nicholas Benton on the Falls Church News-Press “This Week” TV show airing on Falls Church Cable TV (Thursdays at 5:30 p.m., Sundays at 8:30 p.m. and Wednesdays at 4 p.m.) and will also be available on fcnp.com.