Celebrating the Birth of A.F.U.M.C.
In October 1942, Bishop W. W. Peele appointed the Reverend Harry Paul Baker to organize a Methodist church in the Arlington Forest community. On October 25, 1942, the first church school and church services were held in Glen Carlin at the old wooden community hall and school, Carlin Hall at 5711 South Fourth Street in Arlington. (Community Hall built in 1896.)
On January 20, 1943, the organizing Quarterly Conference was held in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ralph S. Overman, 117 North Granada Street. Reverend Baker and Dr. A. P. Williams, Superintendent of the Alexandria District, negotiated the purchase of the land on which the church is located. Initial funding for the land was provided by the General Board of Missions and Church Extension, the Virginia Annual Conference, and the Defense Building Fund.
The first worship service on the church property at Arlington Boulevard and North Henderson Road was an open-air Easter Sunrise service on April 25, 1943, with Dr. A. P. Williams speaking. Groundbreaking exercises for the first building unit were held on Mother's Day, May 9, 1943. On October 2, 1943, the cornerstone was laid with Masonic ceremonies by Columbia Lodge No. 285, A.F. & A. M. Dr. George D. Oliver delivered the sermon. There were 125 members at this time, just one year after organizing. On November 21, 1943, the first church service was held in the social hall, and on Sunday, April 2, 1944, the first services were held in the sanctuary of the original unit. Including the balcony, seating space was available for 225 persons. On July 1, 1945, the Reverend Robert W. Bruce became the first Associate Minister. On the retirement of Reverend Baker that summer, Reverend Bruce served as Minister until Annual Conference in October.
A Time of Great Growth
The appointment of Dr. Harry G. Balthis as Minister in October 1945 began a time of great growth. During his six-year pastorate, membership increased rapidly and programs were expanded. Attendance necessitated that two services be held each Sunday. Building plans for future units were developed, and in 1945 the north parsonage at 122 North Abingdon Street was purchased. On December 28, 1945, a small Moller pipe organ enhanced the worship service for the first time.
In the late 1940's, the church became a center for community activities such as art classes, a weekday cooperative nursery, and the meeting place of the Arlington Forest Citizens' Association. The Marcos (Married Couples) Club was organized, as well as the Women's Society of Christian Service. Under the leadership of Dr. Balthis, the church played a leading role in the organization and development of Camp Highroad. Warren M. Miller told of the nativity display seen by a number of our members at a Norfolk church, so in December 1948,Arlington Forest became the first church in Northern Virginia to present a "Living Nativity" scene. It was a huge success, and an inspiring highlight of the church year for many years.
The Wayfarer's Class was established in 1953-54. During the early 1950's, the church music program was expanded, a Wesleyan Service Guild was organized, and the Methodist Men began. Scouting programs flourished, as they have ever since. Dr. A. McKinley Reynolds became minister in June 1956. His ministry of eleven years is the longest that any minister has served the church. In 1957, the first full-time Associate Minister was appointed, Kenneth D. Argenbright. Other Associate Ministers serving with Dr. Reynolds were David A. Balcom, Hugh J. Winston, Hudson T. Hornsby, and James E. Powell.
In November 1956, the Forest Bible Class was organized by Mrs. Susan Reynolds. Shortly before her death the class was named for her, the Susan B. Reynolds Class. Under the leadership of Dr. Reynolds, membership grew to 1,231, the south parsonage at 4653 South 3rd Street was purchased, the missions program developed, and the church undertook full support of a missionary, Ernest Bjerkerot, in Rhodesia. A Minister of Music and a Director of Christian Education were employed.The Crusaders Class was established in 1959. On December 13 of that year, ground was broken for the final and connecting unit of the church building. It was occupied and consecrated on September 18, 1960. On August 27,1961, an electric carillon was dedicated.
Ground-breaking for the connecting unit in 1959
In June 1967, Dr. Carl W. Haley succeeded Dr. Reynolds, and in 1968, the Reverend Creed S. Davis, Jr. became the Minister of Education. During the next five years, the programs of the church were developed further and plans were pursued for a major capital improvements program. This included renovation of the original building unit, installation of air conditioning for the sanctuary, and the new Reuter Organ which was dedicated in October 1971. The music program was strengthened greatly by the Director of Music, Ron E. Freeman, who joined the church staff in 1967.
Meeting New Needs in New Ways
As the church reached the mature age of thirty in 1972, the challenge changed from that of earlier years, but the primary concern remained to serve Christ in our community and on an increasingly busy highway, in an age of speed and transiency. J. William Hough and L. Douglas Hill, Jr. became Minister and Associate Minister, respectively, in June 1971 and four months later, a contemporary church service was instituted on Sundays. In June 1975,John A. Siegle became Associate Minister with J. William Hough.
In June 1977, the Reverend Edward D. Garris became minister and the church continued its work in a changing community. Development of the Council on Ministries, a faithful United Methodist Women's group, and a strong scouting tradition helped in furthering effective church programs. An on-going emphasis on missions was symbolized by member participation in the Volunteer Mission Project in Haiti.
Upon the retirement of Rev. Garris in April 1979, the Administrative Board voted to employ only one minister. Associate Minister Rev. Siegle was reassigned to Sudley UMC in Catharpin, VA The Reverend J. Wade Munford succeeded Ed Garris in June 1979. On August 5 of that year, Miller Chapel was renovated and dedicated with Dr. William Lyons, District Superintendent, participating in the dedication celebration. In October 1979, the parishioners of Arlington Forest were bereaved by the death of Rev. Garris. A Memorial Service was held at Arlington Forest conducted by Rev. Munford.
Reaching Out Even Further
A renewed commitment in 1980 to children, youth and families spawned the revitalization of family night gatherings, the youth program, vacation church school and a new adult class, Koinonia, begun by Sherry Munford. Each had a positive impact on the life of our church. 1981 was also a year of involvement, new dimensions, and continued growth. As part of the conference evangelism program "Proclaim the Word," Reverend Munford went to Portsmouth and Rev. Murry Unroue came to Arlington Forest, each for a week's preaching mission. A highly participative Lenten series, "The Seven Last Word's of Christ," entailed study meetings held in the homes of church members, and guest speakers Chaplain Bill Dike; Reverend David Balcom, a former Associate Minister at AFUMC and Rev. Wade Munford. The work trip to Haiti, led by John and Mary Siegle, was another significant and meaningful event.
Patricia J. Camp joined our staff in 1981 as Director of Education. With her came the necessary experience to support the increasingly significant church school and young adult programs. In August, under the direction of Ted and Joan Pruiksma, the revival of the all-church annual picnic proved worth while and thoroughly enjoyable!
A very busy and rewarding Advent season included special Sunday evening activities and church families lighting the candles on the advent wreath each Sunday in the sanctuary. A beautiful Christmas Eve Candle light service inspired us all. It was marked especially by the work of AFUMC Boy Scouts who circled the outside of the entire church with candle luminaries. It was the perfect finish to a very successful year.
In 1982, the Lenten Study group developed a booklet called "Prepare the Temple," the Hollis R. Williams Scholarship Fund was established in June to help prepare new ministers for ordination, and the Arlington Korean Church which shares our worship space was one of three Korean congregations from Arlington and Alexandria Districts received into the Virginia Annual Conference in June. A special high light of the year was the celebration of our 40th anniversary in the 198th year of the organization of Methodism in North America. Our Chrismon Tree and the "Radiant Spirit" quilt are specific mementos of the anniversary celebrated the weekend of October 8-10, 1982.
The Year of the Bible, 1983, was observed at AFUMC with the goal for each member to read the entire Bible during the year, and by a continuous reading of the New Testament from 5 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, with 80 readers each reading for 15 minutes, and ending after midnight Bible Sunday, November 20. This event proved to be very memorable to those who participated.
In June 1984 James W. Reynolds, Jr. (wife Ruth) became our minister, and Mary Alene Hall Clive, a member of AFUMC, became an ordained minister. The acolyte program under Marilyn Bradberry had many youth candidates. We celebrated the Methodist Bicentennial with a hymn sing and visits from "Charles and John Wesley". The choir fiesta with the Reverend Will B. Dunn as master of ceremonies was held on October 27. A joyous Advent season was touched by the music of a handbell concert by St. Matthews UMC of Annandale, VA; "Sing a Song of Christmas" by Don Phillips, sung by the children's choir and directed by Shirley Stanberry; and the annual Christmas concert, consisting of "Gloria" by John Rutter and ''The Christmas Story" by Ron Nelson, directed by Ron Freeman.
Continuing the Work of God
In 1985, seeking to better meet the needs of our congregation, the position of intergenerational coordinator was added to the Council on Ministries; the young adult class now known as "Friends In Christ was organized with Barbara Morland as its first teacher; and the nursery was refurbished. Special joint services were held with the Korean and Spanish congregations which used our worship facilities. Steve Gaskins celebrated his 50th year in the ordained ministry, and two new octaves of handbells resulted in three bell choirs of varying ages. Pat Camp moved to St. Matthews UMC in Annandale, VA. The north parsonage was sold and resurfacing of the parking lot, church building and parsonage improvements were begun.
Community service and involvement characterized 1986 as Arlington Forest touched the DC area in many ways. Food for fire victims in Falls Church, household goods for a shelter for the homeless, and money raised by the youth fellowship’s carwash and given to DC Children's Hospital were among the donations and contributions of the year. Following the Annual Meeting in June, Rev. Daniel K. Ivey and his wife Dorothy (Dot) arrived. Other highlights included a bus trip to Maryland to the home of Methodist circuit rider Robert Strawbridge and to a Church World Service facility, the participation of our children in vacation Bible school at Arlington UMC, the completion of the new pictorial directory, and the updating of the church kitchen and the second floor of the parsonage.
The continuous reading of the New Testament on January 17, 1987, was the first of several unique and meaningful experiences that year. Among others were the presentation of the Foundry Players' (from Foundry UMC in DC) "Is It I, Lord" and the concert/worship experience provided by the 65-voice youth choir from First UMC of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. On October 3, AFUMC hosted the District Conference with superintendent Robinson McAden presiding and Bishop Robert Blackburn preaching. Also that year, the United Methodist Youth Fellowship refurbished the youth room and the Living Nativity was revived, complete with live animals and actors who moved to the taped musical and narrative accompaniment.
Shelby McAden became program director in January 1988, filling a position that had been open for some time. AFUMC member Jim Zabawa was sent by our church to Mexico to work on church repairs as a part of Volunteers in Mission. Over 1000 origami cranes folded by AFUMC members were delivered by Betty Lou Sheffield to the Virginia Annual Conference as a symbol of our desire for peace in the world. Continuing projects and programs included Vacation Bible School and Bell Camp, Morning Prayer Group, Builders' Club (an organization for building new churches), Crusaders' annual Spaghetti Dinner, Meals on Wheels, the United Methodist Women's collecting of baby blankets for Third World relief, missionary support for Hunter and Esther Mabry, Society of St. Andrew Potato Project (gleaning), Red Bird Mission Hospital and Appalachian Ministries Education Resource Center, just to name a few!
In January 1989, preparation began for our May consultation on improving the future of AFUMC with the Rev. Kennon L. Callahan, author of the popular book, "12 Keys to an Effective Church". On February 14, the Susannah Wesley Fellowship was formed and added to the already strong United Methodist Women."Worship partners" for the children were begun in June 1989 in attempt to help children learn more about and participate more in the worship service. In July, Patti Lewis, our organist for 12 years, left to become Director of Music at St. Matthew UMC (Bowie, MD). September 3, we welcomed Louise Lee as organist.
To showcase the adult Sunday school classes, members of each class participated in the leading of the worship services during September. In October, the Korean congregation of Arlington Forest joined us for World Communion Sunday. Missional outreach took the form of special offerings for relief from hurricane Hugo and the Loma Prieta earthquake, and Brown Bag Sunday for the collection of food for the Arlington Food Assistance Center was initiated in November. The Thanksgiving service was an ecumenical effort with ministers from Bethel United Church of Christ, the Salvation Army, Trinity Episcopal Church, and AFUMC participating. Also in November, our program director, Shelby McAden moved to Annandale UMC to become Director of Children's Ministries.