Antioch Church of the Brethren celebrates 150 years
WOODSTOCK — A church is as strong as the people who attend it.
That’s how Pastor George Bowers and the members of the Antioch Church of the Brethren feel as they are celebrating the church’s 150th anniversary this year.
“Our mission statement at the church is the Antioch Church of the Brethren is a Bible-based family of God, led by the Holy Spirit, helping others know Jesus and learning to be living examples of Christ in our community,” Bowers said. “That’s served as our guiding principles here and that’s what we seek to do and live out.”
The church has been spending a majority of 2018 celebrating the anniversary by doing many things throughout the year instead of just doing one big event.
“We had an “old time” Sunday back in April,” Bowers said. “We had men sit on one side of the church, while the women sat on the other side like they used to do. We also encouraged people to dress like they might have in the 1860’s if they could. We also had an outdoor service and picnic, along with old time games. That was a special time.”
Antioch Church will continue its celebration on Sunday, which will be used to mark its official 150th anniversary. Along with the normal service, there will be a fellowship meal. As the members of the church have reflected on its history, it has also caused Bowers to reflect on his time with Antioch. (Bowers writes a weekly guest column that appears on the religion page of the Northern Virginia Daily.)
“It’s been really special,” Bowers said. “One of the things I recognized when I came to the church was the love that existed between the people. It’s special to see the love between the people and their love for the lord.”
The Antioch Church, which was once known as the Dunkard Church of Calvary because its members are baptized by immersion, opened its doors in 1868. Bowers said that the earliest recorded info on Antioch’s existence was a picture taken in 1883, but there was a feeling that a building or a tent was put up on the land before then.
Over the course of its history, the Antioch Church has undergone some changes. In the 1950’s, the church added a basement, indoor bathrooms, and Sunday school classrooms. In 2000, the outdoor pavilion was closed in to add more classrooms. A fellowship hall and new bathroom were added in 2004. In 2012 and 2013, a new sanctuary, a full basement, and an expansion of the fellowship hall were built.
Robert Mowery, 82, of Woodstock, whose grandfather Solomon was involved with the church early on, remembered life at the old Antioch church.
“I’ve been a part of this church since my childhood,” Mowery said. “It was always tradition to come to this church. I always remember the big hall the church had. It was the biggest place I had ever been in when I was a kid. It was quite echoey over there. The ministers were very loud and vocal.”
Mowery said that, when he was younger, that the people at the church found ways to make smaller rooms in the church building.
“They had wires strung up all over the church hanging up burlap curtains that they’d draw clean across the church in different places,” Mowery said. “They would make little rooms and cubicles. They would have different Sunday school classes in those rooms. They would then draw the curtains back for the main service.”
Bowers, who started as a part-time pastor at Antioch in 1996 and became the full-time pastor at the church in 2003 after quitting his teaching job at Central High School, also has a history with the church.
“Growing up as a kid, our family would attend here on Sunday evenings,” Bowers said. “We had family that went here and they were faithful to the church. When I graduated college, I moved back here to teach and did some supply preaching. They would invite me to Antioch from time-to-time whenever they needed someone to fill in. I could always feel the presence of the holy spirit here. It’s a special place. I was not interested in getting into the ministry at that point, but I did make a comment once that, if I ever did, Antioch would be a good place to start.”
Under Bowers, Antioch Church has worked on many programs including Cardboard City, which gives participants a glimpse at the life of homeless people. There is also the Family Promise program, which provides families temporary shelter, meals, and support until they get on their feet, and the Antioch Little Duckling Preschool.
“There’s a lot happening,” Bowers said. “We ask, “What would Jesus want to be done in this community?” and then we do it.”