When Community Church Senior Pastor J. Arlie Whitlow was making the plans for his new church, both builders and other churches told him not to put a steeple on top of his church. They told him that churches today are built more like shopping malls than traditional churches.
"I told them, this is not a shopping mall," he said. "This is a church."
It was important for Whitlow to have a steeple on the top of the new church, located off of Route 7, because he believes that a steeple is a sign that the building it tops is a house of God.
"A steeple stands for liberty from sin, degradation and fear," he said. "When people ride by on Route 7, they will see the steeple lit up and they will know that this is a place they can come to."
A LARGE NUMBER of people did come to the Community Church's steeple raising the morning of March 24 to see the symbol of their faith and church placed atop the new 111,000-square-foot building that will house not only the church, but the Virginia Academy, a school for preschool to eighth grade, a teen center, a bookstore and coffee shop.
Congregants packed into a tent set up on the hill next to the church to hear the church's pastors speak and to show their support for the new building. A specially-selected children's choir from the Virginia Academy sang to open the ceremony.
Supervisors Scott K. York (I-At large), Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac), Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) and Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) along with Del. Tom Rust (R-86), were on hand to show their support for the church and the work that it does.
When the Community Church was opened in 1982 it moved from school to school before settling in an office building on Shepard Drive in Sterling. The church has been in that same location since 1989. The new location, which cost an estimated $20 million to build, is on a 50-acre lot along Ashburn Road. The new building is expected to open by summer 2006 and will be able to seat 2,200 people.
For the Virginia Academy, the new facility will finally allow the school to grow. Currently the school has 420 students and the new building allows them to expand to 600 students.
The new building is of paramount importance to us," principal Judith Snowden said. "We have been at capacity for a while. Even with the new school, though, some of our classes are already on wait list."
THE SCHOOL AND the church's growing populations are the main forces behind the new location. Around 1,000 people claim the Community Church as their home church and as many as 850 people attend each Sunday, Assistant Pastor Charlie Whitlow said.
The church works a great deal within the community offering services, such as the Messiah's Market food bank where approximately 200 families a week can come to the church and "buy" groceries.
"We like to identify needs in the community and meet them," Charlie Whitlow said. "We are very big on children and youth as well."
The Community Church's new facility will provide a deluxe teen center, called Fire Escape, where teenagers from the community can come each Friday night. The center will have a café complete with espresso and smoothie machines, televisions with video games and an indoor basketball court.
"The center is open to everybody," café director, Jim McDermott, said. "We are offering an alternative to hanging out at the shopping mall and we can basically do everything that a Starbucks can. If you want to be competitive you have to be able to offer the same things."
In addition to Fire Escape for teenagers, the church offers Blitz for seventh- and eighth-graders on Wednesday night and Apex for young adults and families on Sunday nights.
It is their community projects that Charlie Whitlow credits for the church's growing numbers.
"I think that people see that some thing is happening here and they want to be a part of it," he said.