Things were rockin' this weekend at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Centreville. Beginning a groundbreaking ceremony Saturday for a new church, congregants sang rousing Gospel songs in a tent on the church grounds on Old Centreville Road.
They clapped their hands, waved their arms in the air and sang so loudly and joyfully it seemed as if their words would surely be heard all the way up in heaven.
"This is a special weekend for Mount Olive Baptist Church," said the Rev. Eugene Johnson. "And we've come this far by faith in the living God."
Also participating were pastors from churches in Midland, Leesburg and Manassas, as well as the Rev. Jerry Bryant of Chantilly Baptist Church. The Rev. Kenny Smith, president of the Baptist General Convention of Virginia, and the Rev. Carson Wise, moderator of the Northern Virginia Baptist Association, also took part.
Other dignitaries included Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (R-37th) Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th), Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), former Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Kate Hanley, police Capt. Susan Culin and John Gregory of Gregory Construction Co.
Centreville Elementary Principal Jim Latt, Liberty Middle School Principal Peggy Kelly, and Margaret Payton, widow of the Rev. Leroy O. Payton, longtime pastor of Chantilly Baptist Church, also attended.
"WE THANK You for this day," prayed the Rev. Ronald Boykin, pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Manassas. "Even though it's raining, we see sunshine because of You ... so we come rejoicing."
He prayed for peace, not only for Mount Olive Baptist Church, but for the world, and gave thanks for Jesus Christ and for Johnson — "who looks beyond what is and sees what can become." Boykin prayed, too, for the current and future members of Mount Olive.
Welcoming visitors and guests, congregant Patra Wright said, "Without the support of people from both the public and private sectors, this occasion might not have taken place." She said Mount Olive has "endeavored to build on the foundation" of the Rev. Johnson's ministry: "All he does is a labor of love; thank you, God, for sending this angel."
Johnson said he's at the propeller, but God makes things move. "It is not I, but the grace of God," he said. "And it is all of us, the Mount Olive family, that makes things happen here."
Noting that he lives near the church, Cuccinelli thanked everyone who'd made sacrifices and had the "perseverance and good will" to bring about the groundbreaking. Hugo said he grew up in the Baptist Church. Therefore, he said, "I know this is not an expansion of a church; this is the growing of the House of God."
Frey said he and Johnson spent lots of time together trying to make construction of a new church possible. Before then, said Frey, "Pastor Johnson didn't figure he'd have to be a land-use lawyer and an architect. A lot of work and effort has gone into it."
"I see bigger and I see better, and this building is being built to better serve the community and the Lord," continued Frey. "It is truly a landmark day. It's fun to watch the older churches grow, and this is one of the oldest, most distinguished and longest-serving churches."
HANLEY SAID she was delighted to be there. "There's joy in Centreville and Mount Olive today," she said. What an incredible weekend of celebration this is, and it's a testimony to your faith in the future and in the community. Your 120th anniversary [Sunday, Oct. 23] is a testimony to your endurance. Congratulations on your success, and I hope I'm invited back when [the new church] is all done."
Culin, commander of the Sully District Police Station, said she loves her church, Centreville United Methodist, but had to admit that "the music there isn't near as fantastic as it is here." Stressing the importance of police working together with the faith community to improve everyone's quality of life, she said, "I'd like to support you in any way I can in your endeavor. I look forward to this new church being built, and congratulations on this great project."
Architect Gregory said Mount Olive's come a long way and he was glad to help Johnson "expand his vision for God's work in this community."
Rev. Smith told the church members they're "standing on this side of the Jordan [River]. Canaan is in front of you, [but] don't forget who brought you [there]. Johnson was leading you, but it was God who brought you over. Continue to worship God in the new building the way you did in the old building."
Then, leading everyone outside for the official groundbreaking, Johnson called the rain "liquid sunshine" and said it wouldn't affect any of the festivities planned for that day, including a luncheon and moonbounce. "We are Baptists, aren't we?" he asked. "We don't mind gettin' wet."