At St. George's, 100 Years and Still Looking Forward


(Monday, April 21, 2008 7:45 AM EDT)

From a mission that started off with services on the front porch of a Ballston-area home, to today's urban church surrounded by high rises in the heart of Virginia Square, St. George's Episcopal has seen and experienced much change in its 100-year history.

To celebrate its century-long past, church archivist Cynthia Clark has published “One Hundred Years of St. George's Episcopal Church: Growth of a Church Community in the Turbulent 20th Century.”

The 60-page, illustrated booklet is filled with the church's chronological history, Arlington history and personal accounts and stories from longtime members.

“What I tried to do was relate Arlington's local history and St. George's history, as well as everything happening in the world,” Clark said.

One of the earlier major events the book discusses is World War II. With the large influx of new Arlington residents and the building of the Pentagon during this time, the area went from rural to urban, and “the whole character of the community changed,” Clark said.

The coming of Metro in the 1970s sealed St. George's role as an urban church, a role that it has embraced over the years through its ministries.

As an urban church, “we serve a lot of [homeless] people through our Food Pantry,” said St. George's rector, Rev. Ronald Crocker in a recent interview.

The Food Pantry, which has been in operation since 1988, serves about 10-15 people per week, “giving them a nutritious meal, but also putting a face on the homeless,” Crocker said.

And just as the Food Pantry is for anyone who needs it, “no questions asked,” the church itself is just as accepting, he said.

“It's inclusive. There's no one at the door checking credentials. Everyone is welcome,” Crocker said.

St. George's founded the oldest Spanish-language Episcopal congregation in Northern Virginia, Iglesia San José, which continues to worship on the church's premises. The Amanuel Ethiopian Evangelical congregation also worships at St. George's.

And with four generations of members, St. George's congregation has a wide span of ages, including its longest-attending member, 83-year-old Verna Murray, who has been a parishioner since she was a child.

Clark also is one of the longest-attending members (she started going to St. George's in 1953), and recalls when “the church was the tallest building on the street.”

Old and new members alike had the chance to celebrate St. George's 100th anniversary on April 20, at a luncheon held in the parish hall, where a timeline of the past 100 years covers three walls of the room.

But the focus isn't completely on the past. Rev. Crocker is determined to keep the church growing, and is always looking to the future.

Although, he said, he realizes it's a challenge for the church to remain relevant in a fast-paced information age, Crocker believes that St. George Episcopal Church offers something valuable and “intends to be here for another 100 years.”

“We are a welcoming community where people can find unity with God and each other,” he said. “Community - that's our real product.”

“One Hundred Years of St. George's Episcopal Church: Growth of a Church Community in the Turbulent 20th Century” is available at the church and can be ordered by calling (703) 525-8286.

Cynthia Clark, the archivist at St. George's Episcopal Church, has penned a history of the church's first 100 years.

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