Commentary, Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Houses of worship in our historically religious county continue to struggle.

The congregation of the Arlington United Methodist Church, with roots in the 19th century, has folded, and last year sold its 70-year-old red brick structure at 716 S. Glebe Rd. to Sunrise Senior Living, which has filed for demolition.

One temporary occupant of that complex was Redeemer Church of Arlington, which this June took over the main sanctuary of the Westover Baptist Church. Their landlord remains the Baptist church, which began in 1940 with a congregation of 76 across from today’s Swanson Middle School. Over the decades its services sometimes attracted 1,000 as a force in the community. Today’s congregation, I can report — is down to 100.

In an interview, Pastor Michael Youngblood explored reasons the congregation is now meeting in its smaller (original space) in the Perry Mitchell Chapel. “Covid had an impact on church attendance nationwide,” says the Philadelphian, now in his ninth year at Westover. “We are meeting our ministry objectives and moving forward. This move makes the building more available to the community.”

Working on budgets and planning during a consultation with a national church consultant with his board of trustees to refurbish the sanctuary and chapel, Youngblood explored offers with several local churches. “Fortunately, finances are not a struggle,” he says.

 Its expansive campus with ample parking houses the Arlington branch of the (D.C.-based) Levine Music School, a successful preschool, an occupational therapy program, a summer camp, a vacation Bible school, two scout troops (Boy and Girl), and classical concerts (the Arlington Chorale). When a nearby congregation experienced a death recently, Westover hosted the funeral that drew 800 attendees, Rev. Youngblood notes. Westover is also set up for parishioners to participate remotely through the streaming of services and Bible Study.

 Of all Westover’s assets, the preschool is among the most steady — now in its 52nd year. (My own two grandkids attended.) During Covid, “a lot of schools were struggling with enrollment, and people were choosing different child care options,” says Amy Kaetzel, an employee since 2012 and director since 2020.  With many locked inside, “some young children had never left their home, and it was a scary time for everyone.”

Coming out of this isolation, the preschool “slowly began to re-introduce more community — Halloween parades, Christmas performances, parents coming in as classroom readers, after-school enrichment and weekend picnics at use of the campus park. A bequest from a loyal former teacher allowed scholarships and upgrades (including a popular play-space ball pit) to 11 classrooms that can host more than 100 students “but feel like a one-room schoolhouse. The church is gracious in allowing us to use multiple spaces,” Kaetzel says.

Collaborating as a team with resource specialists, “the teachers know every kid.” The key, Kaetzel adds, is that “children learn best through play, though secretly there’s a lot of learning going on. Arlington Public Schools spends so much on facilities, but that’s not really the most valuable thing in education. The quality of teachers, the right numbers and parents are the recipe. Safety is No. 1, but there’s also safety with heart and spirit.”

Jesus Christ, reminds Pastor Youngblood, “said our mission is to go out into the world.” For Westover Baptist, that “now means serving from the chapel and recognizing the past members and friends who sacrificed to build this church. Then and now, isn’t there still a need for Christ in the community?”


A towering, multi-branched water oak tree in the Williamsburg neighborhood has been saved from the chainsaw.

As recommended by the Arlington Tree Action Group, realtor Liz Kirby this month inked an unusual sales contract with a builder planning to expand the brick rambler at 5920 N. 35th St. An addendum specifies that any new construction will be done in consultation with a certified Virginia arborist. “He appreciates trees, knowing that greenery is good for us all,” she told me.

That’s important news during our times of highly visible climate change.