Church to reopen after renovation

By Josette Keelor

STEPHENS CITY — When members of Trinity Lutheran Church in Stephens City return to their recently renovated church building Sunday, it will be for a celebration of rebirth.

Only weeks away from their 250th anniversary year, the congregation will return to 810 Fairfax Pike, Stephens City, following 17 months attending services in nearby Jones Funeral Home, said Pastor Cameron Keyser.

At its 9:30 a.m. Sunday service, the church will show off new and renovated features, including a larger sanctuary with an expanded alter, a new entrance to the building, offices off a reception area and a bigger parish hall. A parish nurse and music director also have office space now, and the choir has its own rehearsal room upstairs in a hall that includes three Sunday school classrooms, a conference room and a resource room for items previously stored in a former church basement.

“You can’t picture what a difference this is,” Keyser said.

The last time the church was renovated was in 1949, when the barn-like parish hall was built. Founded in 1765, Trinity Lutheran started in a building two blocks away before moving to Mulberry Street in 1854 and across the street to its current location in 1906.

Changes to the structure will help the church grow, Keyser said, particularly among younger parishioners who want to belong to a more community-minded church.

“This church is very involved, but we’ve got to show them, we’ve got to show the people,” he said. The problem of church membership hasn’t been people running from church, he explained. “The church is the one running away.”

Trinity Lutheran has averaged 90 parishioners each Sunday at Jones Funeral Home, but Keyser said it’s difficult to tell how big the congregation is or will be after returning Sunday.

“We grew mostly before we left here, [but] not since, because people can’t find us,” he said. Plus, he acknowledged, some people feel weird about attending services in a funeral home.

Though he’s grateful to have had regular use the space, he said he was as ready as anyone else was to return home.

“Every time I come to church down here,” he recently remembered a parishioner telling him, “I feel like I’m getting closer to being here permanently.”

Attending services at Jones was OK, said the church’s oldest member, Ruby Ridings, 94, “but not like being in a church.”

“I haven’t missed a Sunday,” she said, but “I’m just glad to be back here.”

According to Keyser, having about 10,000 additional square feet for fellowship, programming and administrative space has been worth the wait.

Sunday school and other church functions that were discontinued over the last year and a half will resume, and a church nursery will be able to expand. A courtyard now provides access to the nursery, and a modern kitchen in the parish hall features an eight-burner gas stove that Keyser said the church might rent out to small caterers without access to their own professional kitchens.

The project, through Gregory Construction of Manassas, cost $2.3 million, the majority of which Keyser said the church had saved after investing $3 million it earned years ago from the sale of property a parishioner left to the church. The rest, he said, the congregation has promised to the church capital campaign, Growing in God’s Grace.

“This congregation committed close to $600,000,” Keyser said. “We might even have a surplus from that campaign.”

By the end of 2016, he said, the church should be debt free.

“I have never felt the spirit of God moving a congregation like I have here. This has never, ever been our project, it has been God’s project,” he said.

The church will have a re-consecration ceremony with the bishop at 2 p.m. Nov. 23, and an open house at 12:30 p.m. Dec. 7.

“We had hoped to be back in here for Reformation Sunday,” Keyser said. He had planned a special sermon for the Oct. 27 anniversary of Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation in 1517, but said it’s fitting he wasn’t able to use it.

Quoting the prophet Amos, who abhorred festivals, Keyser said the less pomp and circumstance for their first Sunday back, the better.

“This is OK,” Keyser said. “This is good to do, but this is not what God calls us to do.”

It also isn’t what Luther would have expected, Keyser added.

“Luther was quite a bit a minimalist.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com>