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Cartersville Baptist Offers 'Caring Community'

An African-American church in Oakton recently commemorated its 140th anniversary.

Barbara Reid of Falls Church will never forget the day she was baptized. Along with more than a dozen children, Reid was born again in the icy waters of Difficult Run. That was Dec. 7, 1947.

More than 50 years later, Reid continues to attend the church near where she grew up, Cartersville Baptist Church off Hunter Mill Road in Oakton. The church's current pastor is the Rev. Robert Pearson.

"We as a church family have kept it together with the grace of God," Reid said.

Cartersville Baptist Church, located near the Dulles Toll Road, recently celebrated its 140th anniversary in October 2003. Although the primarily African-American congregation is small, church members, many of whose families have attended the church for generations, intend to keep the church alive for future generations.

"This is our home. We all started here. This is our base," said church member Delbert Wooden Jr., who drives from Washington, D.C., every Sunday to attend church services.

Throughout the years, the church has served families living nearby as both a house of worship and a school. Founded in 1863 by free African-Americans, the men in the congregation pooled their resources together to build the wooden, one-room church. Rosie Carter donated the land to the founders. It had been purchased by her mother for $65.

Community members also used the church building for a school, as early as before 1900, according to church history. In 1927, Cartersville requested the Fairfax County School Board to provide a teacher for 29 students. After receiving approval, the school served children until 1939. In the 1920s, Louise Archer Elementary opened for students who lived closer to Vienna.

In the early 1950s, the church constructed a building that would be farther away from the road and serve as the sanctuary. That building remained until 1973, when a fire, which Fairfax police suspected as being arson, leveled the building. It took seven years of dinners, rallies and donations from the local community and businesses before the church built its latest structure and reopened its doors in 1980. Services in the meantime took place at a local Knights of Columbus hall and at churches in Vienna.

Now that the church has stabilized, the congregation hopes to raise money to give the church building a facelift, as well as add a foyer at the church's entrance.

"It's a loving church. It's a family church. It's a joy to come here," said Wooden, who has been a church member for more than 50 years.

Arnetta Foster of Reston agreed that the church's draw was its family atmosphere. Although the congregation numbered less than 40 at the most recent Sunday service, many of those attending were teenagers and children.

Cartersville is "everything. A small, caring community," Foster said. "[It's] the love and concern we have for one another."