In 1999, the Rev. Eugene Johnson of Mount Olive Baptist Church asked architect John Gregory to build a new church for his congregation. Oh, and he wanted it completed by 2000 — the next year.
"He asked what it would take to do that," recalled Gregory at Saturday's groundbreaking ceremony. "And I said, 'First, we'd have to work out[side] of Fairfax County. We wouldn't even get the paperwork by then.'"
It's now six years later, but Johnson's dream is finally taking its first steps toward becoming a reality. And congregants and friends celebrated that fact with a spirited ceremony filled with speeches, prayers, well-wishes and songs.
Originally, though, after a needs assessment in 1997-98 to better enable the church to serve its growing congregation, Mount Olive planned to just build an addition behind its existing building on Old Centreville Road in Centreville.
The county approved its plan in 2000, and the idea was to later convert the current building into office space and a chapel. But as things moved forward, it was discovered that the original building was constructed at three different times, 1925, 1980 and 1992, and the part built in 1925 — the basement under the kitchen — was rapidly decaying. And that wasn't the only problem.
"When we started noticing all the setback requirements from the utility easements, that compromised our design strategy," said Johnson. They took up more land than was expected, making the building so small that the church couldn't have expanded the sanctuary to accommodate future growth.
"SO ABOUT two years ago, we decided it was best to tear down the existing facility and build a whole, new one," said the pastor. That's when he contacted Gregory, whose company, Gregory Construction of Manassas, designed the new church and will engineer and build it.
The structure built in 1925 was destroyed by fire, and the current building was dedicated in 1980 and added onto in 1992. Johnson's not certain if anything from this building will be retained, but the church will definitely keep the cornerstone it has from the church on Old Mill Road where Mount Olive once stood in 1898.
When Johnson started pastoring at Mount Olive on Nov. 1, 1992, it had about 250 members. But it's since swelled to nearly 1,600. "I attribute it to God, first and foremost," he said. Other factors, he added, are this area's population growth, as well as "the viable ministries we have here, the spirit of worship, the spiritual appeal and the warmth of the congregation."
Besides members from the local area, worshippers come on a regular basis from as far as Woodbridge, Stafford, Alexandria, Leesburg, Ashville, Purcellville, Winchester and Culpeper. Said Johnson: "It's a testament to what's happening here — it's a blessing."
The new building will be 52,000 square feet. The current sanctuary of less than 10,000 square feet has seating for 400, "if we stretch," said Johnson. But the new one will seat 1,000 people and have room for 124 people in the choir loft. It'll contain a fellowship hall — including a commercial kitchen — that can also serve as a banquet hall for 300 people.
There'll be a chapel seating 124 for small services, plus a preschool/daycare for 100 students — something the church can't offer now because it doesn't have the room. Comprising the educational component will be 20 classrooms for Sunday school and Christian-education training courses.
Also planned is a full administrative wing with a pastor's suite of offices and administrative support space for daily operations. There'll be a separate and independent choir-rehearsal room, multipurpose and conference rooms and office space for the church's ministries.
MOST OF ALL, said Johnson, the new church "will enable us to bring the whole congregation together in a larger worship experience." The church now offers two Sunday services, 7:30 and 10:45 a.m., and may combine them into one service, but nothing is definite, yet.
"It'll also allow us to have a more expanded Sunday school and Christian education program," said Johnson. "We're now overcrowded with the scheduling of activities and have had to secure three classroom trailers on site because of lack of space."
The fellowship hall will be more than twice the size of the old one that holds about 125 people, and the church ministry program will benefit, too. "Because of the growth in the church, existing ministries expanded and new ministries were added, but we have a lack of space to do what we need to do," said Johnson.
And since Mount Olive has meetings and activities nearly every night, it's faced some serious scheduling challenges. It's even had to hold events such as Christmas programs, vacation Bible school and Easter celebrations into local schools.
The new church will also contain a technical resource center, with computers and other electronic study aids, as part of its tutorial program available to any student in the community. Right now, said Johnson, it has a "limited setup."
The $8 million project will be funded by members' tithes and offerings, plus a partnership with a lending institution. And since last Sunday, Oct. 23, was Mount Olive's 120th anniversary, that weekend was selected for the groundbreaking because of its historical significance to the church.
Johnson anticipates the new church to take 18 months to build and is anxious for work to begin. After all, he said, he's watched the Centreville area grow and then provide more amenities to its citizens. But though the church grew, too, it was constrained in the extras it could offer.
"When you look at the journey we've gone through to get to this point, we had some hurdles to clear," said Johnson. "But getting to the point of construction beginning feels very good. To see it all come to fruition will be a great celebration. It'll be a new future for the church and a new sense of direction in the life of Mount Olive and what it can accomplish."