By Mark Michael
Then-churchwarden George Washington settled its construction contract. The Declaration of Independence was read to locals from the south porch in 1776. A Union military hospital during the Civil War, Walt Whitman may have served in it as a volunteer nurse. More recently, it was the setting for the most high-profile legal battle in the Episcopal Church’s post-2003 divisions.
The Falls Church Episcopal, which gives its name to the surrounding Northern Virginia city of 14,000 is historic by any measure.
The congregation celebrated a remarkable milestone yesterday, the 250th anniversary of the dedication of its historic church, which is still used weekly for worship. The red-brick Georgian building was designed by vestryman James Wren, who also served as architect for nearby Pohick Church in Lorton and Christ Church in Alexandria. The 1769 church replaced a simple wooden building constructed on the site in 1734, and received its name for being sited along the road which led to the Little Falls of the Potomac.
According to The Falls Church News-Post, the city’s mayor John Tarrant issued a proclamation on December 9 celebrating the event and hailing the church’s important role in its history. The city’s seal even features an image of the historic building.
All but 100 members of the congregation, then one of the denomination’s largest, voted in 2006 to leave the Episcopal Church. Until 2012, the church’s property remained in the hands of the majority congregation, which is now part of the Anglican Church in North America’s Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic. A court order then required that it be returned to the continuing Episcopal congregation, which had been worshipping in a nearby Presbyterian Church. The Falls Church Anglican moved into a new 20,000 square foot building a mile away in September.
Since 2013, under the leadership of John Ohmer, The Falls Church Episcopal has grown by 84%, and had a weekly attendance of 304 in 2018. Ohmer left the church last month to serve All Souls’ Cathedral in Asheville, N. C. The congregation is currently led by interim rector Andy Anderson.
In a June 20 column in The Falls Church News-Post, Ohmer recounted a congregational story full of tumult and remarkable resilience: “Over the past 250 years, The Falls Church has seen much: it has been gutted, looted, occupied by armies twice; buried patriots and royalists, Unionists and Secessionists; witnessed the great visions and great horrors of the past two and a half centuries; been given up on by almost everyone; nearly died again and again and again and again; had its congregation exiled for years… and yet the church — remains. The Falls Church was formed to be an enduring beacon of faith, hope, and love to all within its reach. As we celebrate the 250th anniversary of our historic structure, we renew our commitment to that vision.”