Mount Olive Baptist Church in Centreville originally began around 1885 as Montezuma Baptist Church, with the members meeting in each other's homes. More than a century has passed since then and, Sunday, the congregation gathered to celebrate the church's 120th anniversary.
"FOR 120 YEARS, Mount Olive has stood through the storms, through the rain, through the wind and through the hurricanes," said Deaconess June Johnson, wife of the Rev. Eugene Johnson, during Sunday's special service. "And I thank God for all the members and officers. May you continue to put the Word of God in your hearts and be disciples of all boys and girls."
The church's name became Mount Olive in 1897 and, under the Rev. R.B. Clarke in February 1898, it bought a half-acre of land along Mill Road from Samuel and Emma Harris for $9. That's where Mount Olive erected its first church.
The street was later renamed Old Mill Road and, in 1925, the church built a new facility on its current site on Old Centreville Road on land donated by James Brooks. It was renovated in 1950 and a new addition dedicated in 1980. After the fellowship hall burned, a new one plus a kitchen were dedicated in 1992.
Meanwhile, Mount Olive's continued to grow in members to the point where it's now building a whole new church. The groundbreaking was Saturday, and on Sunday celebrated their anniversary with a meal, fellowship and remembrances.
Special guest, the Rev. Spencer Isaac of New Mount Zoar Baptist Church in Fairfax, gave the sermon at the service. And his church's choir gave an enthusiastic and spirited performance. Church member Marie Hasson also took the podium, saying, "To Rev. Johnson and Mount Olive Baptist Church, we consider it a blessing to be here to share in this anniversary celebration with you."
MOUNT OLIVE church member Vanessa Sye said her church has already come a long way, "From wooden floors to carpet, from wooden pews to pews with cushions, from a building that could barely seat 50 people to one that seats 500."
Earlier, members of both churches enjoyed a chicken dinner together, and several Mount Olive members told what made their church special to them. Centreville Farms' Shelley Toogood, who's attended Mount Olive for 13 years, said she appreciates "the fellowship, the warmth and definitely our pastoral leadership. You just get a feeling that God is present when you're here."
She's head of the church's Health Ministry, which assists members during services when they're ill. It also sponsors activities such as blood screenings so, said Toogood, it does things that'll "help the body as well as the soul."
Diane Alexander, of the Ponds community in Clifton, has belonged to Mount Olive for nine years and sings in the Gospel, Women's and Mass choirs. She's also a member of the Pastor's Guild, the group that supports the pastor and his family on special occasions such as birthdays and holidays, with food and parties.
"Our pastor is very caring and a true man of God," said Alexander. "And he preaches the Word very powerfully. The joyful spirit in the church and of the people is awesome." She said one of her favorite memories is the day she joined Mount Olive and "how people have accepted me as family — that's a blessing."
Shirley Seay of Manassas Park has been a member since 1972 — some 33 years. "After I accepted Christ into my life, this is the church where I started working for the Lord," she said. "And I really enjoy it; you can't keep me away."
Mount Olive was much smaller then — only about 75 members — so she's witnessed a lot of growth. "So many young people joined," said Seay. "And I loved seeing people getting saved." A Deaconess and a member of the Missionary Society, she said she feels comfortable at Mount Olive: "They believe in the Word of God and teach it to the children, and the people here are like family."
Her husband Roger is a Deacon. He joined "because a good friend told me to come here and give my hand to Jesus," he said. "I enjoy giving God the praise, and I just love the folks here; everybody is so friendly."
MARK CASEY of Fauquier County became a member of Mount Olive in 2000. He drives a long way from his home, but says it's worth it. "The church was very uplifting to me because I was in a state of depression at the time," he explained. "And it helped me through the preaching of the Word and the love that was so strong here."
Now, he sings in the Men's Chorus and teaches Sunday School to young teen-agers. "I really enjoy that and get inspiration from it," he said. "I was saved because of the loving fellowship here, and we try to encourage each other through the teaching of the Word of God and through the Holy Spirit."
Keith and Betty Jarman of Centreville's Manorgate community have attended Mount Olive since 2001. "We came here in November 2000, and this was such a friendly, open church that we joined in January 2001," said Betty. "We have a fantastic, Christ-filled pastor in Pastor Johnson, and it's such a family-oriented church."
And that means a lot to her because Keith just retired from the Army, a year ago. But in 2002, he got orders to go to Germany so, she said, "The church was our second home while he was away." She's now a deaconess and Keith is on the Praise Team that leads the church in praise and worship at the beginning of services. He also sings in the Gospel Choir.
He said Mount Olive's special to him because "it's a faith-based church with a personable and spirit-filled pastor who reaches out to try to know everybody so you don't feel like a number."
Estella Newman of Manassas has been at Mount Olive nearly five years and likes "the preacher, the singing and the people." She's also quite proud to be a church usher.
South Riding's Lorethia Roberts is a 15-year member and enjoys being a part of the Missionary Society. Said Roberts: "I love the ministry and the spirituality of the church and the people."
Romaine Lewis, who lives nearby on Centreville's Compton Road, has been the church clerk for 54 years. She "takes care of paperwork and writes letters" and said she especially likes the church homecomings where former church members return home to Mount Olive for a celebration.
AS FOR Ashburn Village's Teddie Outland, he joined in 1995 "because of the Word and the spirit of the people." On Sunday, he had a nice time with his wife Leonia and daughter Morgan, 8, at the dinner before the anniversary service.
Before joining Mount Olive, he said, "We listened to quite a few sermons to make sure that what they preached was in concurrence with the Bible. And we liked the warmth we felt when we were greeted into the foyer of the sanctuary; there was a lot of love."
Calling the church a "staple of the community," Outland said Mount Olive's 120th anniversary was actually a double blessing — one for the church and one for his family. "Our daughter decided to join today," he said. "So this will always be a memorial event for us."