Alexandria Although the Rev. Mark Mrini said no one can pinpoint the exact date of Del Ray United Methodist Church’s anniversary, the congregation will officially celebrate 120 years on Sunday, Sept. 15.
Mrini said it is an exciting time for all members of the congregation — from members who have joined the church in the seven years he has been on board, to the people who have been members for decades.
“This is a birthday celebration, but it’s really a celebration of both our longevity as a community and also the newness of our community,” Mrini said. “We have experienced a lot of rebirth in the last decade, so it’s a significantly different community than it was 10 years ago. … And so, while we do have a handful of members who have been members for longer than 50-60 years,” there are also people who were not here a decade ago.
Mrini said the church was established in 1893. Though the church has survived for 120 years, it has been in its current sanctuary since the 1940s and the rest of the Windsor Avenue church since the 1960s. The original church home is now a residence about a block away from the current building.
According to Mrini, it is quite an accomplishment for a church community to not only last, but to thrive for 120 years. And, even with its deep roots in the community, Mrini said the church still continues to be a vibrant part of the Del Ray neighborhood.
“This is a celebration of new beginnings, freshness about our community and a new spirit of vitality we’ve got here,” Mrini said.
Jillian Roth, the director of programs and children’s ministries, has only been working at Del Ray UMC for two months, but she said she felt the enthusiasm and youthfulness of the church almost immediately.
“I can feel that sense of community, and passion for everything that goes on here,” Roth said. “There are lot of different ministries and openness to all of them.”
She added that there are a multitude of programs for the youth, which has contributed to the growing number of children in the congregation.
“We have a great children’s church, as well a drama club that will start again on Sept. 15,” Roth said. “We work on skits that kids perform for the congregation. They do everything from picking the skit to some simple set design. It is all hands on deck for the children.”
Mrini said the growing need for youth programs is a great thing, and is an indicator of the church’s success.
“Youth programs and participation has grown tons,” he said. “Seven to 10 years ago, we didn’t have any kids over the age of 10. And, now we have so many babies we can’t even count. We have a baptism almost once or twice a month … there are tons of babies.”
Mrini said there is not only youthful enthusiasm for the children’s programs, which range from the nursery to a high school youth group, there are programs for all subsets of the church populations, and healthy participation in all of them.
“There is a real spirit of openness and excitement to try new ministries here,” he said. “We have been very intentional about making sure nobody gets left out. [Del Ray UMC] is a place where anybody can connect and find community and a place to go. We need all segments of the congregation to be able to plug in.”
The celebration on Sunday will include food and a paper plane contest for the children. “There will be a Paper Airplane Flying Contest, hot dogs, cake — a full celebration,” Roth said. “We are encouraging the kids to work on and really craft the airplane in the days leading up to the contest. Whoever’s plane goes the longest wins.”
Mrini said the competition symbolizes the vision of the church for the upcoming decades; Del Ray UMC is “flying into the next 120 years."
Roth said it will not take another 120 years for the church to see even more development and have even greater influence in the community.
“I would like to see that the children I am teaching pass the torch and do what I am doing,” she said. “I see them being the volunteers and leaders of the community to bring forth the next generation.”
Mrini said that Del Ray UMC is already central to the community. “Something we describe ourselves as on our website and that we really feel we are is the ‘spark in the heart of Del Ray,’” he said. “We are hub for neighborhood groups — including preschools, the Alexandria citizens band — the list goes on and on. This is where a lot of people in the neighborhood meet, and get connected. We are hoping and praying that this is a positive and transformative thing for the whole neighborhood."
His vision for the church’s next 120 years sees the church being a crucial part of Alexandria beyond Del Ray.
“In the next 120 years, we can envision a time when this whole neighborhood and this whole city finds significant hope and discovers the incredible life that God has planned for them,” Mrini said.