Arlington Presbyterian Looking Toward Second Century


(Sunday, April 13, 2008 8:30 PM EDT)

Arlington Presbyterian Church is 100 years old this year, and while the pastor and congregation are proud of the church's past, their focus is on the future.

“In celebrating the 100-year anniversary, we have found ourselves looking at the past and wanting to build on that foundation,” the church's pastor, Sharon Core, said in a recent interview. “We're moving forward.”

Located on Columbia Pike, the church and its congregation have made plenty of history over the years.

Hiring Lucille Herron, an African-American woman, in 1957 as the church's organist was a controversial decision on the part of the church, one that resulted in protests and the departure of a number or members, Core said.

“That was very courageous on behalf of the session [the church's governing body] and congregation, and speaks for the congregation's courageous history,” she said.

Accepting Ronda Gilliam as the church's first black parishioner in 1960 also made some waves, but the church officials stood by the decision. Gilliam later established Arlington Presbyterian's clothing bank, which is the church's longest-running mission outreach program.

Over its 100-year history, Arlington Presbyterian has seen a fair amount of change: the original building burned down and was rebuilt in its current location in 1930; membership has fluctuated from as high as 900 to today's 125; Sharon Core became the first installed female minister in 1998.

And as the church has changed, so has the area around it. Arlington Presbyterian's officials and members want to make sure they continue to serve the people around them the best they can.

“What can we do to connect with and respond to the community?” Core said. “The congregation is struggling, in a good way, to figure out what the role of the church is, and what the role of the church is on Columbia Pike.”

Arlington Presbyterian's respect for its past, as well as its commitment to taking on new challenges, is reflected in its centennial celebration concert, to be held on April 20.

The concert, “Music of 100 Years Ago,” will feature older classical pieces, traditional hymns and anthems, but also will unveil two brand-new works: an anthem based on a passage from the Bible and a hymn written by congregation-member Kristine Gabster.

“Music is taken very seriously here,” Core said. “In the life of this church, music, whether it's instrumental or choral, puts faith and belief into a dimension beyond just words.”

Core said she is excited about the upcoming centennial celebration, as well as her 10-year anniversary as minister in December, and she has high hopes for the Arlington Presbyterian Church's future.

“I have a conviction that this congregation is about to do something incredible,” she said. “I don't want [to say what] it is . . . but it's like a pot of boiling water. That lid is going to fly right off!”

The Rev. J.W. Rowen, minister of Arlington Presbyterian Church from 1955-67, stands in front of the addition to the church completed during his tenure. The building included 14 classrooms, a bride’s room and enlarged facilities for other church uses. The photo was taken by Bob Milnes of the Northern Virginia Sun.

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