St. Andrew Lutheran Church is a place where families are raised and milestones occur. And since its Palm Sunday organizational service, on April 8, 1979, it's shared in both the joys and sorrows of its members' lives.
At the beginning, said charter member Judy Crim, "Many times, eight or 10 of us would have a service and, at the end, hold hands during the prayers. I watched my family grow up at St. Andrew with two confirmations, a baptism, the death of two parents, a wedding and, recently, the baptism of our first grandchild."
LIKE ITS MEMBERS, St. Andrew has also grown up and, last Sunday, it marked its own milestone with the celebration of its 25th anniversary. And sharing the pulpit with current pastor Dennis Hagstrom was the Rev. Linn Opderbecke, who led St. Andrew for 18 years before moving to New Hampshire and another congregation in May 2000.
"It's fun to come home to see St. Andrew thriving and alive as ever and still providing a Christian family to Centreville," he said. "When we came to Centreville, it was a semi-rural community with only one stoplight."
Noting that St. Andrew was known as "the bringer," Opderbecke said, "Our mission has been to bring others to Christ — our neighbors, friends, co-workers and classmates. That work continues. As a congregation that's been so blessed, it is our mission to share our blessings with others. Thank you for today; you're very special people."
His wife Nina said the church gives its members the freedom to be who they are and appreciate each other's differences, as well as similarities. "St. Andrew is a real neighborhood church that reaches out to the community," she said. "It has been such a wonderful place for us and for our children to grow up."
Church council member Denise James called the church an extension of her home and neighbors: "I get a great deal of joy sharing my faith and, like going to Disneyland, I want to bring everyone else there, too."
"I think it's a very special church," said member Kathy Perrin. "And there's such an attitude of kindness — so many little things that make a difference. The people are nice to each other, and we've had two extraordinary pastors." She said the members truly live their Christianity in their daily lives.
"At St. Andrew, there's such a level of caring for each other and of wanting to meet needs — and not because we have to, but because we want to," she said. "It's just my Christian church family. We have covenant groups for Bible study, discussions, etc., and you can rely on the people in them."
PARISH ASSISTANT Debbie Howe has belonged to St. Andrew since 1990. She's happy it's so family-oriented and describes it as "a place to worship and to be of service to others in the community." And she continues to be active in it because of the many friendships she's made there.
Barbara Tyler, chairman of the church's 25th-anniversary dinner, at the Hyatt Fair Lakes, calls St. Andrew her family away from home — "a close-knit group constantly welcoming others. It is wonderful being connected in the community."
Pastor there since February 2002, Rev. Hagstrom said his job is both fun and challenging. "It's a wonderful congregation with many leaders and people who are gifted in their faith [and] understand their spiritual gift," he said. "It's challenging because it's reaching out to the community which is becoming more diverse and has different needs."
But he's pleased that his congregants have such a strong commitment to outreach and are active in groups such as FACETS (Fairfax Area Christian Emergency & Transitional Services) and WFCM (Western Fairfax Christian Ministries), besides providing missionary support.
And although following a long-time pastor could have been difficult, Hagstrom said the people of St. Andrew have been nothing but warm and welcoming to him, and he gives them his all, in return. "Sometimes I preach from the pulpit and, sometimes, in the aisle," he said. And his sermons are based on the Scriptural lessons and rooted in the Gospel of Christ — "God's free grace and mercy given to us through Jesus Christ."
SUNDAY SERVICES are at 8:30 and 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., with Sunday School at 9:45 a.m. St. Andrew is at 14640 Soucy Place in Centreville, at the corner of Braddock Road and Cranoke Street. (Phone 703-830-2768 or see www.saintandrewlc.org). Said Hagstrom: "We're looking forward to another 25 years, welcoming all people, growing in our relationship with Christ and serving the Lord."
On that first Sunday, a quarter-century ago, St. Andrew had just 25 families. And they were the seeds for the church's 1,096 current, baptized members. And since 1984, its strong preschool program has served, not just church members, but the whole community.
Member Wava Vigen said the members anticipate a future of "even more community involvement." Added member Hal Derrick: "The best thing people bring to St. Andrew is that everyone can share their gifts, both large and small — whether it's helping a family by fixing their plumbing or taking a meal to the homeless."
Member Ray Weimer said St. Andrew shares its blessings in the Centreville community and throughout the world. "This summer will be the 15th year St. Andrew youth and adults will have worked on a Habitat for Humanity house," he said. "That experience gives as much and more to those taking part as it does to those who receive the home."
FORMER CHURCH council president Erica Laich said members don't just exhibit their faith, Sunday mornings, but have a long tradition of helping and serving others. They do things such as tutoring elementary-school students and mentoring families trying to get back on their feet — and also by encouraging their own members.
"St. Andrew is a caring family that rejoices in my successes and supports me in my struggles," said Laich. "I was a chemical engineer for 13 years and have now been a high-school mathematics teacher for five years. The desire to have a career where I was more in service to others was instilled in me by my experiences at St. Andrew."
Similarly, member Lorraine Ehlers is a Stephen minister, offering one-on-one, confidential care and guidance for people in transition or those with "a feeling of a broken spirit" or just needing "a friend to pray and talk with."
Kathy Uffelman recruits and trains volunteers for small-group leaders and Sunday School and adult-education teachers. She also plans the programs and camps. "I thought I'd only [do this job] a couple years, but I love it," she said. "St. Andrew is a welcoming family, and our kids play and go to school together. And from kindergarten on, we try to install in our children to do something for others. Our 25th anniversary is exciting and the future is going to be wonderful."