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A Century of Silverbrook

Silverbrook United Methodist Church commemorates 100 years Sept. 16.

The diminutive white church on Silverbrook Road will soon mark one century of serving members of the Lorton community, from prisoners to professors.

"Silverbrook is a little tiny oasis in the midst of a busy world, and for the past 100 years the members have kept the church small but vibrant," said Rev. Kimberly Barker-Brugman, pastor of the church for the past year.

Believed by some passersby to be vacant and abandoned, the church has a steady congregation of about 70 people, ranging from families like John and Rena Wilson who grew up in the church to a group of newcomers from Mozambique and Nigeria who are new to the area.

"We have a little bit of everyone, from young families to retired couples and lawyer types to people who operate cranes," Barker-Brugman said.

Physically, the church has not changed much since its found families constructed it out of wood they brought from their homes in Maine, she said.

The biggest changes came in the last 20 years, as bathrooms were built 12 years ago and the fellowship hall was completed in 1990.

"They were some strong people, the ones who founded this place," Barker-Brugman laughed.

Inside the sanctuary, the handful of pews sit in neat rows, untouched and unmoved for years. Oil lanterns are attached to the peaked windows of plain glass, a reminder of times gone by.

It's the quietness, the sense of peace and reminders of a calmer time that draw many new residents to the area to the church, Barker-Brugman believes.

"People here know each other well and really care about each other," she said. "If you come in on Sunday and ask people to pray for a sick relative, they will think about them all week and ask you how that person is the following Sunday. It really is like a nice little family."

FOR SOME MEMBERS, like Tom Painter and John Wilson, their families have been attending Silverbrook for decades.

Tom Painter started attending services there again when he was preparing to marry his wife, Sandy, she said.

"The first day we walked in, it felt like we belonged there," said Sandy Painter, who grew up Catholic but decided to be married in the church her husband attended as a child. "It's like going to church in someone's house."

Sandy Painter said she appreciates the church's involvement in local groups, like the Lorton Community Action Center and area shelters through bake sales, yard sales and outreach programs.

In addition, many groups meet in the fellowship hall during the week, including Alcoholics Anonymous, Weight Watchers and a few small churches without permanent homes.

"I think we're meant to be a small but mighty group," Sandy Painter said.

Tom Painter admits that the church he literally grew up next to will change, eventually, as Lorton evolves into a more residential area. However, he hopes some of the longstanding members will work to retain the familial appeal of the church.

"There are so many new people in the area who don't go to church, I think we'll try to reach out to them," he said. "We want to let them know there is a family waiting for them."

Doug Spalding, another congregate from the older generation of Lorton, said he returned to Silverbrook because the church he was attending became too big.

"My wife and I felt we weren't getting a good message and too many announcements at a bigger church," he said. The return to Silverbrook, where he attended services as a small boy, was a refreshing change.

"It's a very traditional service and I think a lot of people like that because it brings you back to your roots," he said. "It probably reminds a lot of people of the churches they grew up in."

Silverbrook is "small and rooted in the word," Spalding said, a place where new members and returning friends are welcomed with open arms and handshakes.

"You can almost see the people who went before you sitting in the pews with you," Spalding said. "You really feel like you're in the spirit of the Lord during service."

John Wilson said his family attended Silverbrook since the 1950s, and his father, Harold J. Wilson, was instrumental in organizing the old Lorton Little League that was centered at the church.

Wilson himself worked hard to get the church included on the National Registry of Historic Places, bringing recognition to a place he's considered home his whole life.

"I get the feeling that people like the smallness of the church," he said. "We get a niche crowd, probably because it reminds some people of the churches they grew up with."

Of course, times will change as they tend to do. What the future will bring to Silverbrook United Methodist Church is up for debate, and Barker-Brugman said she is willing to consider any options her congregation offers.

"I hope to see God's will be done," she said. "We have had different versions of what that vision might be. Some people would like to see us grow larger and others think it might be nice to have a retreat here, a place where people can get away from the busy rush of life in Northern Virginia."

She is hopeful that members of the congregation will continue to share their hopes and hesitations about the future with her and each other as they look to the next 100 years, reminding them that decisions will be made by consensus, not by vote.

"If we grow, great. If we stay who we are but add a retreat center great," she said. "We'll follow what the Lord has in store for us."