When eight people met in a borrowed church building to start what would become Manassas Baptist Church more than 135 years ago, Manassas was a small town. Over the years, this small town grew into a small city and the church grew and changed right along with it.
At the dawn of the new millennium, Manassas Baptist realized that as the community grew larger, more and more people felt disconnected from just that – a sense of community. So, in a gigantic leap of faith, the church expanded its campus in 2002 by purchasing the former Marsteller Middle School and ‘The Rock” Community Center was born.
The Rock, as it has become known, is an innovative idea for a church. Housed under its roof is an opportunity to come together for contemporary worship, English As a Second Language (ESOL) classes, a School of Music, a youth center (“The Hub”), a sports league for children and youth, and small groups. The list seems to grow daily.
Our whole idea is to give people a chance to just be together – whether it’s over a meal or on the basketball court. You see, at Manassas Baptist we believe God wants us to experience life together – In Community.
No matter where you are on your faith journey, we invite you to join us.
The eight people who gathered for the first worship service in a borrowed space on the last Sunday of March, 1884, felt a pull to establish a Baptist church in their community. The minutes of the August 1883 meeting of the Potomac Baptist Association reported that Prince William County was “suffering” for religious work and that there was “appalling destitution such as we have hardly dreamed of.” The first members could not have helped noticing the extraordinary sunsets in the winter and spring of 1883-4 that followed the eruption of Krakatoa in the East Indies. Some fire departments mistook the vivid displays for fires and responded to them. The believers might have taken the sunsets as sign of the urgency of building a church. We still have their names: Mr. and Mrs. Whitfield Nutt, Mrs. Tom Smith, Mrs. Margaret Barbour, Mr. Redman Bradfield, Mrs. Kate Marders, Mr. And Mrs. S.D. Bonner, and the pastor, the Rev. Timothy Hall.
Initially the congregation met once or twice a month in an upstairs room at Hixson’s Hall at North Main and Quarry Streets. Services were followed by business meetings and fellowships.
Construction of a frame church building began in May, 1887, with church members contributing their labor. The building cost $1300 and could hold 200 people. When it was occupied on January 1, 1889, the congregation numbered 23 members. The congregation pitched in to clean and maintain the building, with all-member “housecleaning days” scheduled from time to time just like the one we’re planning for later this month..
Margaret Barbour organized the Sunday School in 1889. A class bearing her name continued long into the twentieth century.
In 1891, although the church had difficulty meeting its budget, members contributed to local and international missions. Twenty years after the founding there were 109 members, which meant that people were inviting others and making them feel welcome..
Albert Speiden, father of long-time organist Virginia Carper, designed with his brother a new church building which was built from 1905-6 and occupied in the summer of 1907. This building is now the Cramer Center. Mr. Speiden rode the Southern railway to his job in Washington where he designed a number of area buildings. His daughter spoke of hearing the whistle from the big steam locomotive and knowing that “Daddy would be home soon.”
A graded Sunday School curriculum was adopted in 1913, and the church held regular revivals in August (which had to compete with the annual horse show) and in January.
Dr. V.V. Gillum, father of Dr. Marvin Gillum, moved to Manassas to set up his dental practice in 1914. He remembered the construction work as the town put in lights, sewer and water. Dr. V.V. served on the baptismal committee for forty years, helping candidates behind the scenes. He finally witnessed a baptism again when his service on the committee was over.
During the years before World War I, support for missions remained strong in spite of concern about church debt. Active organizations during this era included a Women’s Missionary Society, a Young Women’s Auxiliary, a Girls’ Auxiliary and Royal Ambassadors. The Sunday School continued to grow.
Members answered the call to service in World War I and those at home supported the war effort in many ways.
Following the war the upkeep of the church and improvement of the property occupied members, in addition to regular services and meetings.
A minister of the church, the Rev. Mr. Clark, resigned in 1922 to promote a community hospital. Several lots were purchased for a building, but the effort failed in the end. Prince William Hospital opened in 1964.
Members of the church were active with picnics, banquets, Christmas pageants, training groups, choir rehearsals and missions activities in addition to regular worship services and prayer meetings.
The congregation debated the merits of a pump organ versus a pipe organ and finally settled on a Lewis and Hitchcock pipe organ. The first pipe organ in Manassas was dedicated in September, 1935 with Mrs. Carper as organist. She served until 1985.
Fire broke out in the church on November 17, 1935 when the furnace malfunctioned. The fire company established by Albert Speiden worked for three hours to put out the blaze. Both building and organ were salvageable, but the congregation had to meet in other church buildings including Grace United Methodist while both were rebuilt.
The Baptist Training Union held its convention at the church in the summer of 1938, the same year the Friendship Sunday School class, which meets in the church parlor today, had its start.
Both men and women from the church volunteered for service in World War II, and those on the home front contributed in numerous ways.
In 1943, there were 347 church members and 197 in Sunday School. The church made plans and established a fund for an addition to the church building which then consisted of a sanctuary, two classrooms, a small room behind the pulpit and a cellar. However, any addition had to be deferred until after the war’s end in August, 1945. An education building was authorized in December 1945 although it was not started until the spring of 1947 because of a post-war shortage of building materials.
The church’s emphasis on education, music and missions is evident from the beginning. And, with 12 pastors in first sixty years, there is also evidence of strong lay leadership and consistent congregational support and participation. .
Not all the members of the church from this era are part of the great cloud of witnesses. We have seven members of the church who joined before 1944. I will call their names in order of their membership, and if they are present, we ask that they please stand and be recognized.
Sophie Kidwell (?)
The Baptist Young People’s Union was active during these years. The church budget for 1945 of $8000 included $1800 for the Cooperative Program and support for a state orphanage and hospital. Members also contributed to war relief efforts.
The congregation authorized plans for an educational building in December, 1945, although the cornerstone was not laid until the spring of 1947 because of a post-war shortage of building materials.
The Rev. Mr. John D. Edens came as pastor in September, 1948 and later commented that he could scarcely keep up with everything that was going on in the church. A young people’s choir was organized and a prayer meeting was held in the auditorium of the new educational building in January, 1949. The original church building was covered with brick veneer and the front renovated with members contributing much of the work.
The choir during these years sometimes had a director; sometimes Mrs. Virginia Carper led the group from the organ. Mrs. Ethel Shields directed the youth and adult choirs in the early 1950’s. Edward Altman and Cleveland Fisher also served as directors and Mrs. Shields returned for a while. The choir often rehearsed in homes. The choir wore both robes and hats in services for a time.
The education building was dedicated in April, 1952 with three floors and a kitchen. Churches in Arlington, Fairfax and the city of Alexandria formed the Mt. Vernon Association. A church budget surplus of $2400 was used for a mission project.
With a variety of regular activities and special programs, the church needed more room. The congregation bought an adjacent property and the house at Zebedee and Church Streets which they renovated for Sunday School use.
Emmanuel Baptist Church started in 1956 with the support of Manassas Church to answer the need for a congregation in the Yorkshire area. Missionaries came to speak at the church, and the chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous which still uses the church was authorized to meet.
In February, 1960, with a budget of $55,000 and membership of 575, a Planning and Survey Committee began looking for a new site for a building that would hold 1000.
In 1962, with 671 members, two Sunday morning worship services were necessary. The church helped establish Loch Lomond church.
Plans for a new site moved ahead. The congregation took an option to buy the six-acre Champion property at the corner of Sudley and Stonewall Roads for $30,000 in August. The idea of the move was controversial: some members wanted a smaller church they would walk to. There were also those who wanted to keep the downtown building as a mission church. Because the property included a pond, talk in town was that the “crazy Baptists” were building a church on a swamp in the middle of nowhere.
The church contracted with architect Eimer Cappelman for plans for a new building in May, 1963 and secured a loan of $475,000 in May, 1965, paid off at the church’s centennial in 1984. Mr. Cappelman died in the fall of 1965 and a new contract was negotiated with the firm of Ward and Hall. The contracting company of Burroughs and Preston agreed to construct the building for $556,348 with a completion date of October 1, 1966.
The new building included 53 classrooms, areas for children, a choir practice room, library, pastor’s study, secretary’s and other offices, a parlor with a fireplace, a 400-seat fellowship hall, a kitchen and a meditation room
In the 1960’s membership had increased by 200 in spite of the loss of about 50 members with the move from downtown. The congregation that had relied on faith to establish a church and to have it grow continued to rely on the acts of God as they moved to a new location.
The furnishings were moved from the old to the new building by a group of church members. The pipe organ was relocated later. The congregation met for the first time in the new sanctuary October 16, 1966. The community Thanksgiving service followed in the new building, as well as a performance of Handel’s Messiah involving a number of choirs from different congregations.
Dedicated on July 2, 1967, the facility was used by community and other groups including Alcoholics Anonymous, Northern Virginia Community College, senior citizens’ groups, Boy Scouts, the Manassas Women’s Club, the Potomac Baptist Association and the Korean Baptist Church.
This was a period of explosive growth as subdivisions replaced farms. IBM established a major facility in Manassas in the late 1960’s which would become part of the Route 28 “high-tech corridor.”
During this explosive period in the Manassas area, the church hired Rev. James Davidson in the spring of 1970. Pastor Davidson was honored in his first year at MBC being asked to lead the U.S. House of Representatives in their opening prayer in September 1970. With the young pastor’s contagious enthusiasm, the church began to grow and focused on training courses on Bible interpretation and community involvement including evangelism, education and ministry in the field of social action. The church hosted the Fourth Annual Ecumenical Service for the Fostering of Christian Unity in January, 1971. The Greater Washington Pastoral Counseling Service established an office in the church in February, 1971.
Two Sunday morning services were offered beginning with Easter, 1972, a contemporary and a traditional service.
The church established a combination preschool and kindergarten in the fall of 1972. Mrs. Becky (Detwiler) Verner started work as director of music December 31, 1973.
Women were considered for the office of deacon in 1973. Beverly Button was elected as the church’s first woman deacon in December, 1975.
Manassas became a city in 1975.
In May, 1975, the church participated in the start up of SERVE (Securing Emergency Resources through Volunteer Efforts), a multi-church and multi-agency organization designed to help families and individuals by coordinating local efforts.
The church entered into a lease/purchase agreement for the old church building with National Capital Christian Broadcasting Company with a final sale scheduled in 1984. Westover Church began as a mission project in 1976.
Dr. Edward Bratcher, minister since 1974, began a series of Inter-Church conferences in February, 1977 with Dr. Robert G. Bratcher, head of the Good News Bible translation project as speaker. The series continued through 1982.
The family of Margaret Coggin gave a three-octave hand bell set in her memory in 1978. The youth made several mission trips during this time and the church hosted a number of special programs. The budget was $194,000 in 1979. The 11 AM service was broadcast live at intervals over local radio station WPRW.
With an influx of Laotian families into the area in 1979, the church coordinated with other churches to establish CARING (Community Action toward Refugees for Introduction to New Growth)
The sanctuary was the setting for a commissioning service for foreign missionaries on December 8, 1981.
The church celebrated its centennial year in 1984 with a year-long series of special programs, events and services. Under the slogan “Thankful for the Past—Committed to a Second Century of Ministry,” the congregation set about raising $275,000 for special centennial projects. Initially, these included a gift to missions, a new pipe organ, renovation of the educational space and a chapel. The chapel was deferred until a later date.
A centennial banquet took place March 17 at Osbourn High School with Apollo 15 astronaut James Irwin as guest speaker. The note to the building was burned at a centennial service on March 25. The celebration continued with a homecoming event on June 3.
Late in the year Word press published Dr. Bratcher’s book, The Walk-on-Water Syndrome.
Mrs. Virginia Carper retired after fifty years as volunteer organist September 1, 1985. Musicians presented a “Musical Tribute to Virginia Carper” June 2. She was succeeded by Mrs. Becky Verner.
Most of the centennial projects made progress or were completed in 1985. The church gave $32,000 to the Baptist Publications House in Nairobi, Kenya (where Jay and Laura Lee Stewart worked). SERVE received $10,000 toward a shelter for displaced families, and the Chaplain’s Service of Virginia, $5000. Concerned Christians for New Life, a group that helped local families in need, also received $5000.
In February, 1985, the Music Committee, which had been looking at pipe organs for 2½ years, recommended an instrument by the Schantz Organ Company of Orrville, Ohio. The thirty-two rank organ was scheduled for installation by September 1, 1986.
The organ was delivered (in parts) in mid-June, 1986. The Lewis and Hitchcock was used until Easter and then removed and sold. A rented electronic organ filled the gap. Although the organ was not slated for completion until September, it was in use by late June. The instrument was named in honor of Mrs. Carper.
Originally planned as a centennial project, the building of a chapel was deferred until the Merchant family funded it in memory of Caton Merchant. The Chapel Committee presented a report and plans by architect Ward Hall in February, 1985. The stained glass window in front of the church was removed and stored with the start of construction in July. It would form the front wall of the chapel.
The chapel’s initial completion date was set for December 1, 1986, but it was evident by November that it would not be finished until the spring of 1987 because of delays securing the proper bricks.
The congregation has sought to grow, to extend its ministries, sometimes with financial stress as a result, but the church has always met the challenge of stewardship. An ecumenical spirit has existed in the area since churches were established here, with congregations sharing services, spaces, special conferences and meetings. The style and shape of ministry have changed in response to changing conditions and needs as the people of God have responded to the leading of God.
The Chapel of the Good Shepherd was dedicated in April of 1988. The basement area was be finished as the Grace E. Metz Learning Center through a bequest from Miss Metz, who was a member of the church from 1908 until her death in 1986. Construction began in June, 1990, and the center was dedicated in late November, 1991.
The first Music Camp took place in August, 1988, with 50 children. It has run every summer since then and now involves over 130 children. From a youth choir, children’s choirs and an adult choir, the music program has grown to include multiple children’s choirs, the Sanctuary Choir, a youth praise band, “Stained Glass” (an adult praise team), and handbell and hand chime groups. Mrs. Rebecca Verner marked 35 years of service in 2009.
An Hispanic congregation began meeting in July, 1991 and continued until 2007.
The office area and library in the sanctuary building were remodeled in 1993. .A program to replace the windows in the sanctuary building began in 1996.
The Rev. Dr. William T. Higgins was called to the pastorate in June, 1991. His pastorate of nearly 17 years is the longest in the church’s history.
A video ministry started in July, 1997. The 11 AM Sunday service began broadcasting on the local cable channel Tuesday evenings in 1998.
The church sponsored numerous activities for children and youth. Sports ministries during these years included basketball, baseball, soccer and softball.
An 8:30 AM service was added in 1992 as a summer option and has continued until the present.
Classes and activities used rented space in Marsteller School in 1993 and in 1994, the church authorized a committee to negotiate with Prince William Schools for the use of Marsteller School.
In 1995, the church joined with other churches and community groups to form a local chapter of Habitat for Humanity. The Virginia Council of Churches established a Refugee Office in the sanctuary building. In addition, members participated in local missions, including English as a Second Language classes which began in 1994 with two teachers and two students. Presently fifteen teachers work with over 80 students in 12 classes.
The church continued its support of national missions with mission trips for disaster relief to Florida (Hurricane Andrew)in 1995. Internationally, the congregation had a close relationship with SBC missionaries to Kenya Jay and Laura Lee Stewart through their retirement in 1995. Church members also made mission trips to Tanzania, Mexico City and Kenya during these years.
This era was marked by growth in attendance, programs and ministries. Toward the end of the time it became evident that the church was going to have to expand. This expansion would become the next great challenge for the people of faith.
In April of 1998, the sanctuary, narthex and adjoining restrooms were remodeled to their present configuration. The pews were removed and refinished, new carpeting was installed, and the walls were painted.
In 1998, the Long Range Planning Committee began studying the needs and ministries of the church for the next 30 years.
In 1999, representatives of programs and groups began a series of meetings with Lemay/Erickson about projected ministries for the Marsteller space. The church had use of Marsteller fields and gyms for sports ministry in the fall of 1999 and decided in June, 1999 to buy Marsteller at a cost of $9,000,000. . A “Catch the Vision” stewardship campaign in 2000 encouraged the congregation to contribute to make a $1.5 million down payment on Marsteller.
Fourteen Bible classes used Marsteller the fall of 2000, along with a Filipino/American Community Church.
The congregation identified and established four ministries for Marsteller: Hearth and Home (a senior adult day care center), the SALT (Shaping Adolescents for Leadership Tomorrow) Club (a before and after school care center), Java Rock Coffeehouse and Cornerstone (an adult and vocational education program). In addition, Prince William Hospital used part of the building for offices, while Head Start classes used still other rooms.
In 2002, the church took over the Marsteller property in July following a celebratory service and picnic. Members of the church worked along with professional contractors to “claim the vision” by inventorying, renovating and cleaning the Marsteller building. A total of 365 volunteers contributed 8,736 hours of work with an estimated value of $131,040. Marsteller was renamed “The Rock: A Community Center.”
Sports camp in the summer of 2000 involved 220 children. The basketball ministry involved 350 children. Baseball, soccer and softball programs for children were added to the basketball ministry by 2002.
The Women’s Ministry was very active during this time, with Bible studies, simulcasts, brunches, lunches, teas, dinners, baby blessings during the year, conferences, girls’ nights out, and “chick flicks.” The Women’s Ministry opened an emergency food pantry (Women in Need Food Closet) on October 1, 2008. The pantry served dozens of families each week.
The Senior Adults staged monthly programs, including luncheons, brunches and a trip to various attractions.
The church continued its strong support of missions during this time with regular gifts of the Cooperative Program and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, hosting “Week of Hope” groups in the summer starting in 2005 and junior high mission trips to North Carolina, Philadelphia and West Virginia.
Church members made several trips to Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Youth and adults went to China, Hong Kong, Mexico, Slovakia and Germany on mission trips as well.
Worship now involves a traditional service, a contemporary service, youth “SHOUT” service, an Arabic Baptist congregation, Hispanic congregation as well as a Vietnamese service.
An 11:00 am Sunday School started in the fall of 1999, along with a 9:45 am contemporary service in the sanctuary. The contemporary service moved to the large gym at Marsteller in July, 2002.
An “Interim Elder Leadership Plan” was approved at the May, 2004, business meeting. The church elected interim Elders in July 2004.
Work went on throughout 2007 on a plan of Incorporation, Organization and Permanent Elders.
The church incorporated in March, 2008, and elected Permanent Elders in July of that year.
The acquisition, renovation and use of the Marsteller property was the main challenge of this era. The additional space and facilities allowed the church to further expand its ministries, though not without difficulty. At 125 years, the way of the future is uncertain as it has ever been, but the people of God stand ready to follow the Spirit of God wherever it leads. As it has been, so may it ever shall be.