Make no mistake, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church in Springfield is not about to celebrate its 50th anniversary mildly.
"We don't do punch and cookies," said Rev. Susan Goff, standing outside the church's Christian Education building in order to be heard above the loud music coming from the party inside.
Many of the church's 200 families gathered to celebrate their parish's 50th anniversary on Saturday afternoon, eating cakes and cookies after a potluck dinner. Children filled the dance floor, trying their luck under an inflated limbo stick and photos from the church's history flashed on a large screen on a stage.
"Celebrating this anniversary is a great joy for me," Goff said, having come to St. Christopher's 11 years ago from Richmond. "Shortly after I came here, we celebrated the 40th anniversary, but we didn't have any music or dancing," she said.
In addition to the noisy party Saturday afternoon, the church has spent most of the past year developing outreach programs to celebrate and expand the community service work the church prides itself on, she said.
"This summer, we had a program where we gave out lunches for children who would qualify for free or reduced lunches through the Fairfax County School system," Goff said. "We probably gave lunches to about 30 kids during the week all summer," she said.
Community service is a long tradition for St. Christopher's, said Susan Tilt, a junior warden at the church.
"We've provided school supplies for some children in the area and will work with some schools to provide physicals before the school year starts," she said. "We've also raised $5,900 for hurricane relief so far and any proceeds above our costs for tonight will go to the relief effort."
Tilt has been a member of the church for three years and describes the congregation as "a great community. In the 50 years we've been around, we've grown. This church is a combination of all ages and shapes and sizes. Everyone's welcome here."
ST. CHRISTOPHER'S congregation had its start in 1955 in what is now the Hunter Motel, Tilt said, nearly "50 years to the minute from when we'll have our service tomorrow," she said Saturday afternoon. Following the service, members of the congregation had planned a brunch at the motel to discuss the church's history in its original home. The congregation moved to the Garfield School until moving into its current home on Hanover Avenue in 1968, she said.
Looking forward, Goff said she hopes her parishioners will "continue to serve the community in a new way. We hope to see lots of kids come through the doors and then go back out the doors to help serve other kids in the community."
During the anniversary service, she planned to tell the story of St. Christopher, "who carried Christ on his shoulders," as a reminder of the faithful's duty in the world, she said. "We'll start the service the same way it would've been 50 years ago, except women weren't allowed to be priests until 1976, so we'll make an exception on that one," she said.
Many of the programs at St. Christopher's are geared toward children, like Maggie Lane, 7, and Grace Friedenreich, 8, members of the Junior Musical Ensemble.
"There are lots of songs I know that I like to sing," Grace said. "We sing for lots of holidays and we'll sing tomorrow morning for the celebration."
"I like our preacher, she's fun," said Adam Wattenbarger, 11, who participated in the Christmas Musical last winter. "We go to the Shrine Monument in the Shenandoah Mountains every summer for a retreat and that's a lot of fun."
"I got to sing 'Do You Hear What I Hear' in the Christmas Musical last year," said Lauren Hinson, 9, a member of the Musical Ensemble.
Bob Riley joined St. Christopher's in 1996, shortly after his wife died.
"My daughter and granddaughter went here, so I decided to move on over," Riley said. Now a senior warden at the church, he enjoys the involvement of children in the services.
"A lot of people join this church because it's so family friendly," he said. "This is a very welcoming community. A lot of members here came to the memorial service for my wife and were very accommodating, maybe even more than my own church, which is why I decided to join," Riley said.
With the celebration continuing inside, Riley said he was happy to see some members of the congregation who had moved away come back for the party.
"The church has a great camaraderie and fun atmosphere," he said. "We're focused on moving forward and we're hoping to keep doing so."