Fifty years ago, Springfield was a quiet little suburb of Washington, a place where people would go when they wanted to visit the country.
Now, amid the traffic congestion of the Mixing Bowl, the jackhammers of revitalization and the caution tape of development, members of St. John’s United Methodist Church are reveling in their congregation’s ability to withstand the changes of Northern Virginia life.
"I like it here because it’s like a community within itself," said Martha "Marty" Bickford, a member of the church since 1987. "It’s an older congregation, but we’re finding that through our youth programs and Sunday school, the same parents who once left the church are starting to come back."
On Sunday, April 23, the church will kick off a year-long celebration of the congregation’s 50th anniversary with a party, featuring skits that highlight the fads of each decade from 1950 through 2000, Bickford said.
"This is a very cozy church, we always seem to be busy," she said.
WITH ABOUT 800 members, there’s always plenty to do, said June Aylor, a member of the church since 1966 and chair of the education department.
"Our first church was on Axton Street, but we moved into our current building on Backlick Road in 1973," Aylor said. Consisting originally of families with young children, the church’s population has fluctuated over the years. As children of the early members grew up, many left to join other congregations but are coming back, she said.
In September, the church will have a homecoming weekend, inviting back all the members who have either moved out of the area or out of the church, Aylor said. "We’re planning a big community festival in the fall to open our doors to all our old neighbors."
With a musical program that includes a performance of Handel’s "Messiah" and choirs for children and adults, and a daily preschool attended by over 140 children, Aylor said the church is often a very busy place.
Having been at the church less than a year, Pastor Bill Burrough said he’s found it very easy to make himself at home.
"I feel like I’ve been dropped in the middle of some very exciting things that are happening," he said.
After relocating to Springfield from Vienna, he found himself catching up on plans for the church’s renovation and expansion, in addition to catching up with some couples he’d married 10 years ago.
"As I learn more about the history of the church, I’m finding I know more and more people than I realized," he said.
St. John’s is a "certified church for all God’s children," meaning it has passed a long list of requirements that provide for a safe environment for children, Burrough said. For example, regulations adopted by the church require two adults to be in any room with children at any given time.
"This program was developed so that people know their children are safe here at all times," he said. "All our employees have had their background checked so we can make sure everyone is protected."
In order to embrace God’s children outside his own church family, Burrough said each fall the congregation offers a service trip to Appalachia and participates in the Operation Christmas Child campaign, in which shoe boxes are filled with small gifts for needy children around the world.
"I’m just blown away by how great everyone is here," Burrough said. "I know there are a lot of other churches in the area, but I really think we have something special here."
Member Jean Summers agrees.
"I’ve been to a lot of the churches here and I always come back," she said.
A member of the congregation since 1995, Summers has been planning the anniversary event on Sunday like a big birthday party.
"We’re going to have cake and ice cream just like a typical birthday party," she said.
The party is just the beginning of the events, which will be followed by a tea for women in the congregation and a picnic in July.
"In September, we’ll have our homecoming weekend put on by our men’s group, and then in December there will be a rededication service," Summer said. A service trip to Taiwan is also in the works, but she wasn’t sure if the details had been finalized.
"We all care about each other here," she said. "It’s a really nice, caring congregation. We’ve been very happy here."