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Vienna Church Celebrates 100th Anniversary

For 61 years or over half of the church's lifetime, Vivian Cruz has been a member of Antioch Christian Church's small, tightly knit community. The members have been like a family to her, ever since her 1945 baptism, her 1958 marriage in the church's sanctuary, and the time in high school when she heard then-minister Joel Watson conduct revivals for the community.

"He just showed the spirit of the Lord, and it's something that's stayed in my veins, I guess," said the Vienna resident, who still attends the church today with her granddaughter.

Despite the modernization of the surrounding area from sleepy farmland to high-tech corridor, Vienna's Antioch Christian Church has remained an oasis of close-knit fellowship for the past 100 years. Since its founding, generations of families have brought hundreds of casseroles to church potlucks, sung countless renditions of “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art,” and have held baptisms, marriage ceremonies and funerals in its 100-year-old sanctuary.

"Everybody knows everybody else. When someone's in trouble, people come and help," said current pastor Gene Buie. "It's pretty much like being part of a large family. Everybody contributes to the work being done throughout the church."

Church member and Vienna resident Karen Curtis agreed.

"If someone asks you how you're doing, you can actually tell them how you're doing," said Curtis, a member of the choir.

Its cornerstone laid in 1903, Antioch Christian Church, facing Beulah Road, was constructed back when Beulah was still a dirt road meandering through the countryside. For about $300, original church members had built the church with timber from the surrounding area.

An education building was constructed and connected to the main church in the 1950s. However, church members continued to preserve the church building so that the pews inside the church today are original, despite the new cushions.

"We try to keep the church in its original condition as best as we can," Buie said. The pews are "just well cared for and loved by the people who've been here."

As the church grew throughout the years, the congregation prided itself on its close-knit community. Affiliated with the Disciples of Christ, Antioch's creed is based on uniting Christians across denominations. That unity contributes to the spirit of community the church has now, explained Buie.

"It's a very nice, warm, receptive community to belong to. But what makes it possible is our common faith and the work that God has done through Christ," Buie said.

Member Fred Hutchinson of Vienna agreed. Hutchinson has attended Antioch for 35 years, and he and his wife raised their four boys in the church.

"If someone's sick, we have a committee called the Shepherd Committee," said Hutchinson, adding that the committee visits members who are sick or who haven't shown up in church for several weeks.

Buie even added that newcomers try the church for several Sundays before committing to it, to see if they can adjust to the congregation's intimacy. About 40 churchgoers fill Antioch's pews every Sunday, while membership hovers around 80.

"Those who are comfortable with close relationships, those are the people that stay," Buie said.

While the church's sanctuary seats 100, it hasn’t let its small physical size deter it from interacting with the surrounding community. Antioch has a preschool, sponsors several Girl and Boy Scout troops, hosts Al-Anon meetings, and allows St. Sophia's Orthodox Church to hold its Greek classes in the building.

"We try to bring the community into the church and make the facilities available," Buie said.

To commemorate its 100th anniversary, the church is holding a revival, its first in almost 50 years. Members are also making a time capsule, which they'll bury next to the church this spring.

"We're very anxious to see that the church has another 100 years to it," Buie said. "I'm eager for the church to become better known and appeal to other families in the community."

But even as the church anticipates its next centennial, members said its sense of community would remain.

"It's just a place I've grown up in," Cruz said. "It's like another extended family."