Great multitudes in Arlington are giving thanks to the “church for people who don’t go to church.”
That’s how Grace Community Church is described by lead pastor John Slye Jr. He recently updated me on the pandemic-era good works of the 20-year-old congregation that owns no property and meets — during normal times — in two borrowed locations.
I first took note of Grace Community last January when it donated an astonishing $250,000 to the Chantilly-based CRi, the nonprofit that helps persons with mental health needs or developmental disabilities. That group is using the funds to build a new house near N. Glebe Rd. and Lee Highway to house six clients.
And though most, if not all, houses of worship are meeting online during the crisis, Grace Community is unusual in that it has never spent its offerings money on stained glass, pews, steeples or a parish hall. Its parishioners (currently 2,000) since its founding on Christmas Eve of 2000 have assembled at sites like Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Arlington and at George Mason High School in Falls Church.
“We don’t have traditional hymn books, but put the words on a screen,” Slye said. “There’s a little more rock and roll” than at a conventional service, with electric guitars. “But when it comes to Christmas, we’re more traditional.”
Grace’s ministerial outreach is aimed at “the least likely person in America to go to church — the young professionals” so numerous in the Washington area, he said. “The average church is 90 percent people who’ve gone to church their whole life. But 40 percent of us have never gone, or not in a long time. They self-classify as non-church-goers.”
The result is a scattered congregation that is “really diverse between young and old — the average age is early 30s, though we try to mix it up,” Slye said. There’s plenty of racial diversity, with African-Americans reflective of the county’s just under 10 percent, with Latinos too.
These folks give. Since the Covid crisis hit, Grace — working with partners at other churches and nonprofits — has aided more than 6,000 needy locals and invested $170,000 in Covid-19 relief. That includes food distribution with partners such as Chick Fil-A and Giant Food, rent assistance to more than 100 families facing eviction, plus a school supplies drive.
Slye has a bachelor’s degree in pastoral studies at what is now the University of Valley Forge and a master’s in divinity. He is a local boy, having attended Thomas Jefferson Middle and Wakefield High School. He is a fan of Arlington historical trivia, occasionally citing anecdotes from this columnist in his sermons.
Someday, when the crisis has eased, Slye vowed, Grace Community would like to acquire its own property. That would cement a highly spirited ministry.
Preservation activist Tom Dickinson can boast of demonstrated impact.
Last April he filed a last-minute application to designate a local historic district to protect the 19th-century Febrey-Lothrop home at Wilson Blvd. and N. McKinley St. Since the death of longtime owner Randy Rouse in 2017, the county and commercial homebuilders have been eying that rare residential nine acres.
But it was revealed at the Nov. 18 (virtual) meeting of the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board that an unsolicited bid this summer from a contractor hoping to construct several dozen homes on the space was canceled. That’s according to attorney Tom Colucci, representing the Rouse trust, which seeks to avoid “interference” in its goal of maximizing the estate’s value via a “high-quality development.”
Some board members expressed interest in preserving the storied house while accommodating a builder’s goal of placing new homes around it. So they instructed county staff to study new ways of dividing the property’s 15 lots, which might take six months.
Dickinson’s reaction: “I feel mildly vindicated, but in the long run, I don’t know if LHD designation will impede” the builder. “The historic main house might be saved, but surrounded by $2 million-a-pop McMansions on minimum lot size.”