Last month the Great Falls United Methodist Church found itself in the unexpected position of having a vacant parsonage. Subsequently, a residential property of a truly spiritual nature is now on the rental market in Great Falls.
"I was born and raised in that church — it was built in 1947 — and this is the first time that we've ever had the parsonage for rent," said church member Carol Wesley Wright, who is coordinating the rental. "So I guess the times they are a changing."
The parsonage found itself without an inhabitant after the Rev. Richard Keller, the pastor at Great Falls United Methodist Church for the past decade, decided to retire. Arlington resident the Rev. Nancy Childress was appointed as his replacement, and officially took over on July 1. In addition to being the church's first female pastor, Childress also brought a slight change in protocol. Her son Eric will begin his senior year at Washington Lee High School in Arlington this fall, and it seemed unwise to uproot him during his last year of high school.
"She has her own home in Arlington and two children, one of whom is going to be a senior next year in the high school over there," said Wright. "So she and our congregation agreed that it would be best if he finished up his school, and she will commute."
Childress's 20-year-old daughter Ellen is currently a junior at the College of William and Mary. Childress has lived in Arlington for the past 14 years, serving as one of the pastors for Mount Olivet United Methodist Church on Glebe Road. She knew she was due for a transfer, but requested that she be moved to a church within reasonable traveling distance from Arlington in order to allow Eric to finish out high school at Washington Lee.
CHILDRESS said that she expects to move into the Great Falls United Methodist parsonage next summer.
"That's the plan," said Childress. "I really need to be in the community and I really want to be in the community."
Childress said she strongly believes that a pastor should be present in his or her community, but she knows that this is simply a temporary sacrifice that needed to be made. For now, she is simply focused on getting acquainted with her new congregation, which, with a membership of 450, is significantly smaller than the 1200-member Mount Olivet congregation. Childress said one of her goals is to get more church members actively involved.
"Right now our active participants are right around 100, so I'm looking forward to working toward a more active membership," she said.
Childress is also hoping to introduce a contemporary service to the regular schedule at Great Falls United Methodist.
"They're ready for that, they're not shy about it," said Childress. "They want to grow, but they also want to keep that hometown feel... and that's really important too. It's a great congregation, with lots of energy, lots of direction and lots of plans — I love it."
IN THE MEANTIME, Wright and her husband have been showing the 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom residence to interested renters in the hopes of finding someone to sign a one-year lease.
"It's going to be kind of a unique property to rent," said Wright, who works for Wright Homes. "I think the Lord is going to be watching over them all the time, and they're obviously going to have very quiet neighbors."
Although the church is primarily used on Sundays, there are a number of groups that use the building for weekly meetings.
"Our church is just so community oriented," said Wright. "It's home to the Boy Scouts, home to AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings… we love the fact that the building is used for the community all the time."
Wright said she thinks the property might be attractive to a family that is waiting on the construction of a new home in the area.
"Compared to all the huge houses in Great Falls, it's just a modest 4-bedroom home, but it's still really nice," said Wright.