Once again this Monday, compassionate pro-civil rights citizen activists will respond to a call for a “day of service” in honor of the annual celebration of the nation’s most powerful civil rights advocate, the martyred Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., As the lead story in this week’s News-Press reports, that opportunity presents itself for all citizens great and small in the City of Falls Church.
It is not lost on us, most emphatically, that a centerpiece of these events (see Page 1 this edition) is the historic Falls Church Episcopal around which the village, town and now independent city of Falls Church was organized from the time George Washington was a vestryman in the 1730s. That venerable property was held hostage for almost a decade by a renegade element that sought to defect from the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and align itself with a Nigerian Anglican bishop on the basis of his virulent opposition to gay rights and anything but a subservient role for women in the hierarchy of the church. But now, the diocese having reclaimed the property, including its historic box church which served numerous roles for both North and South in the Civil War, including as a hospital, the local church is growing its important role this community as a center for progressive religious values that the whole community can, and should, embrace, including the fact that the senior rector is an openly gay person. This newspaper has been proud of its role in encouraging the efforts of “continuing Episcopalians” to keep up the effort to reclaim this church property and the denomination’s commitment to progressive values throughout the entire ordeal.This church now even goes so far as to include an 11:15 a.m. worship hour on Sundays, the latest start time of any house of worship in the region that we are aware of. Now, that’s compassion!
While the church was from its inception less than perfect, as the hands of slaves were used to build it (for which a plaque seeking forgiveness was lovingly added to the walkway to the historic church in recent years), at the other end of Monday’s events is the influence of the City’s Tinner Hill Foundation, with its co-founding leadership of Ed and Nicki Henderson, Ed being grandson of the founder of the first rural chapter of the NAACP being right here. They and their allies locally have been responsible for the inclusion of vital civil rights history and values in this community.
So, when we celebrate this special day of service here, it is not just any day of service, as we sit on a critical piece of real estate and history, including on paths over which our owner-editor’s great great grandfather, John Avery Benton, strode as a valiant Union soldier 160 years ago and at the same time also where the poet Walt Whitman walked chronicling the sacrifices Union soldiers made to put an end to slavery in the nation.