This Christmas will be a special one for the church where George Washington once served as a Vestryman. After seven years in the wilderness that saw the church giving up nearly every earthly possession it had, the congregation has finally found a permanent building to call home for Christmas.
In 1624, a statute was passed that mandated the Anglican Church (Church of England) as the official church for Colonial Virginia. In 1732, a church was established on a location in Northern Virginia. The church became known as The Falls Church, an Anglican Church named after the Little Falls of the Potomac River. The City of Falls Church, Virginia got its name from the church, a church where George Mason and George Washington both served on the Vestry. During the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence was read from the steps of The Falls Church. After the United States gained its independence, the Anglican churches in the American colonies became known as Episcopal churches in order to separate, in a sense, from the Church of England while remaining a part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, the third-largest ecclesiastical body in Christendom.
During the Civil War, Union troops took over the church. After the war, The Falls Church was returned to the Episcopal Church. In 1979, Rev. John Yates became the rector (lead minister/pastor) and began a period of evangelization and transformation of the congregation based on devotion to Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible. These efforts were successful even as the larger Episcopal Church was moving away from Biblical orthodoxy under a succession of theologically liberal Presiding Bishops (essentially the head of the Episcopal Church in the United States). Running parallel to this trend, The Falls Church attendance doubled in the first five years of Yates’ tenure while overall Episcopal Church attendance continued to decline.
By 1985, many congregants of The Falls Church were watching services from a different part of the historic building due to space constraints brought on by the increasing numbers of attendees. To properly meet the increasing needs of the ministry, a new sanctuary was completed on the property in 1991. International Justice Mission (IJM) was birthed within the confines of The Falls Church in 1997. In the midst of great things, the theological drift of the Episcopal Church continued and it became apparent that the split would come out in the open, especially after continuous public thwarting of Scripture by much of the Episcopal Church leadership
In December 2006, ninety percent of The Falls Church congregation to disassociate itself from the Episcopal Church and realign with the Anglican Church under another ecclesiastical body. In this vote, the church knew that there was a real possibility of losing its historic property and the buildings contained therein to the Episcopal Church, which is what happened after a series of court battles. Due to the final court decision, most of the congregation was forced to leave not only their historic home and property but also its two million dollar bank account made up of the tithes and offerings from, mostly, the people that voted to realign with the Anglicans.
On May 13, 2012, the last worship service was held at the historic property. The Episcopal Church changed the locks on the buildings and only one set of items, kneelers from the communion rail, were allowed to be taken by the new congregation, by then known as The Falls Church Anglican. The congregation seemingly lost everything they worked to labor for decades.
The new Anglican congregation began its seven years of tabernacling and worshiped at several locations in Northern Virginia including churches, a public middle school, and Catholic high school. In June 2015, The Falls Church Anglican was able to purchase five acres 6565 Arlington Blvd, appropriately located within the confines of Falls Church, Virginia and began building a new church sanctuary. In October 2019, the first service was held in the new 900 seat church building; a building that has many of the features of the sanctuary found on the old property while having a life of its own.
The seven years in the wilderness were a time of testing and faith-building for The Falls Church Anglican. The leadership and congregants of the church could have chosen a quick and easy path by simply swallowing what the Episcopal Church had to offer. They could also have simply longed nostalgically for being on the church property where George Washington served. Instead, The Falls Church Anglican took a stand based on Biblical principles and has come out of this battle stronger and better. Remarkably, even during their seven years in the wilderness, the church planted several new Anglican churches in the Washington, D.C. area.
Despite this time of celebration, there is no quitting for The Falls Church Anglican. Rather, this season is merely a beginning and the congregation is not content to rest on its laurels. In reality, The Falls Church Anglican was never “Washington’s Church” but was always Christ’s church.
There is much to be thankful for this Christmas at The Falls Church Anglican. If the congregation remains steadfast in the unceasing love of the Lord, they too will be counted as faithful while seeing God’s mercies never come to an end.