Pender United Methodist Church in Fair Oaks turned 100 years old, June 4, and its members celebrated all weekend. They held an evening of fellowship on Friday, a centennial picnic, Saturday, and a special worship service and lunch on Sunday.
And as Fairfax County has grown into a thriving place with a multicultural population, so has Pender. It believes in community outreach and mission work, and the atmosphere at Sunday's events was warm and friendly, despite the gray sky and rainy weather.
IN FACT, the Rev. Kenny Newsome took those raindrops as a sign. "In the Bible, rain is seen as a blessing," he said. "So we viewed the rain as an announcement from God that what we're doing is a blessing, not only to us, but to the whole world."
The church currently has 1,285 members and an average Sunday attendance of 600 among three services. The 8:15 and 11 a.m. services are "blended, traditional," with both old hymns and popular, praise music. The 9:30 service is a high-energy, contemporary worship service with a live band and multimedia enhancement.
"A strength at Pender is that it's a multi-age and multicultural congregation that adds a richness to our faith and how we encounter Christ," said Newsome. "And it's exciting to see that a faith that's over 2,000 years old is still real and vital in shaping how we live our lives now in the 22nd century."
Because Pender takes the Scriptures and applies them in real-life situations, "making Christ real in the world," said Newsome, it chose particular words for its centennial theme. That theme was "We are rooted in Christ, grounded in faith and growing in the Spirit to serve in the world."
"That helps us look back and see, not only where we've come from, but also remember that where we're going is the most important," he said. "For example, at the end of June, we'll send 18 people to Poland in mission."
Greenbriar resident Heather Rice, almost 22, will also go on a mission, but hers is to Africa. "One of Pender's themes is 'A church with a heart for missions,' so we always support missionaries abroad," she said. "And we go on short-term trips every summer to Philippi, W. Va., to repair people's homes or build them from scratch."
In September, Rice will go to East Africa for 10 months as a missionary, teaching English and working in an orphanage. And, she said, "The support I've received from our church has been amazing."
SHE'S BEEN attending Pender for 14 years and says, "When I walk into this church, I always know someone. It gets bigger and bigger, but there are people who've been here for generations and watched me grow up." And since the members are from so many, different generations, said Rice, "There's so much to learn about our faith from them all."
Her father, Dale Rice, a member since 1991, said Pender is "not just Sunday Christians, but people who live out their faith, day to day. There's a real relationship with God, and they see that we're called to serve."
He said people look out for each other and "what's been important to see is that the same vision has been maintained over the years. In the fall, Pender will do a series on being a 'Contagious Christian' and affecting people with their different styles of faith."
Paul and Rose Marie Baquirin, of Chantilly's Brookleigh community, have been members since 1995. Rose Marie likes the hymns and youth group, and Paul likes the fellowship and friendships they've found.
Little Rocky Run's Mark Reese and his family have belonged for four years. "Our kids chose it for us," he said. "They got involved with the youth program. And we really do love this church; it's been a great thing for our kids and has provided great opportunities for us."
He and his wife and two daughters have been on mission trips and, this year, his older daughter will go on one to Paraguay. Describing what makes Pender special to them, Reese said, "It's the people and their outreach to us. We're all imperfect people, and it's a way we can share together and help each other."
Initially, he didn't realize the church was so old, so he was glad to be part of its 100th-anniversary festivities. "It's good to understand the history of the church," said Reese. "It helps me understand where we've come from."
Jacque Netherland of Chantilly's Waverly Crossing community treasures the "welcoming attitude" of the congregation. "When we first came here, our two teen-agers and younger son said, 'This is the church for us,'" said Netherland. "They understood what the pastors had to say and that there was a message for them, too."
Greenbriar's Norma Pace attended Pender since the early 1970s. She left briefly, but is returning to Pender "because of the warmth and the friendship here that permeates from the grassroots of the church. It's very comforting to be with people who come from different areas, but love to worship the Lord together."
ALSO PLEASED to celebrate Pender's centennial were Greenbriar residents Mavis and Song Ajay and infant daughter Asheley. Originally from Ghana in West Africa, they consider this church a "tight-knit community."
Shirleyanne and Marv Koontz now live in Fredericksburg, but attended for 15 years and came for the centennial. Originally, said Shirleyanne, "When we walked into this church, I felt the spirit of the Lord, Jesus Christ, in the sanctuary. And the people here are incredible; you never get a 'no' when you ask them for anything."
Greenbriar's Stan and Dottie Kurzeja are 38-year members. "This has been our spiritual and almost physical family," said Stan. "Throughout the years, we've always had good, Gospel-preaching ministers and the people have done a lot of outreach to different countries. This year, we're going for our fourth year to Poland."
He said his Sunday School class is interesting because Mavis Ajay, a Nigerian woman named Gertrude and a woman who's lived in China all attend. "It's always a blessing to meet people from different cultures," he said.
Teresa Brynda of Franklin Farm said she and Dottie both had Baptist roots and their husbands were raised Catholic. "And here we all are in a Methodist church. We had serious, fertility problems, and I believe we had our kids because our friends, Dottie and Stan, prayed them into the world."
Dottie said the congregation supported her family, too, through both difficult and sad times, and also rejoiced in their happy times. Indeed, said the Rev. Newsome, "Pender has a heart for the community, reaching out to the hurting and lonely, [and] Christ is embodied in the people working in ministry."
Originally from India, Beryl Marin of the Fairwoods community has attended since 1990. "We have a mixture of Asian, Latin American, African and European people, which is very nice," she said. "People here welcome Methodists from other countries, so it's an easy blend of cultures."
Tina Cunningham, president of Pender United Methodist Women, says her group has many circles providing spiritual growth, education, fun activities, fellowship, help and support for women, in good times and bad.
And she calls the diversity "one of the cool things about this church." Said Cunningham: "It brings a whole, new vibrancy to our congregation."