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Wesley United Methodist Church

This Historical writup was done prior to the Historical writeup in the 60th Anniversary Section by different individuals.

Wesley United Methodist Church

PHONE: (703) 780-5019

Summary of 50th Anniversary Year-2004 Addressed To Wesley Congregation in Year 2054
From the WUMC 50th Anniversary Committee

Part I

The back woods. The neighborhood surrounding our present church was considered the back woods in the 1940's. The nearest church, store, hospital …was in downtown Alexandria, 8 miles away.

During the immediate post World War II period (1945-1950) homes began to fill the woods and hills. The "pioneer pathfinders" in Wesley Church were three Mount Zephyr residents, Mrs. George (Lucille) Koogle, Mrs. Sethelle Rossi, and Mrs. W.T. Waddell. In the summer of 1953 these three ladies approached the pastor of Washington Street UMC in Old Town Alexandria, Dr. T. B. Landis, seeking guidance in establishing a new church in their neighborhood.

The visit resulted in the first service of the new church - named Wesley after John and Charles Wesley, founders of Methodism - held in the Mount Vernon High School (the present Saudi Academy) on January 17, 1954. Thirty adults were in attendance plus fifty-two children meeting in a newly organized Sunday School. On Easter Sunday, 1954, Wesley was officially chartered with 54 members

Wesley continued to hold Sunday services in the High School for over three years (January 17, 1954 until March 3, 1957.) The present church site of 3.5 acres was purchased for $12,800 and presented to the board on October 17, 1954. March 29, 1955 the first meeting of the Wesley Building Committee was held. Charter member and architect, Howell Richardson was appointed to draw up plans for the new church building.

Approximately a year passed before sufficient funds became available for bids. The accepted and lowest bid was $104,500. The contract was let and a ground breaking ceremony was held on June 4, 1956. The day finally arrived on March 3, 1957 when a special chartering service took place and use of the new building began. Blueprints were drawn up for a grand Sanctuary to be built between the present building and the large parking lot.

In late 1964 the issue of whether or not to build the new Sanctuary, divided the congregation. Some of the members favored a building fund geared toward a more modest project, but a more urgent need, namely, for a fellowship hall as a separate building. Ultimately, the new Sanctuary was voted down.

In June of 1969, a new pastor was appointed, the Reverend Mahlan H. Elliott. During his tenure, in the opening months of 1970, the multi purpose room social hall/Sanctuary was completely renovated and became a permanent sanctuary, assuming its present character. The long used folding chairs were replaced by pews and wall to wall carpeting was installed. The choir and organ were moved to their present location. The chancel area was completely changed. This is, in part, where we come from.

This article comes from an abbreviated history compiled and written by our Church Historians, Clyde and Iris Phelps. Their more detailed history of Wesley's first twenty-five years, will be shared March 25, 2001 during the worship service. Many fine church historians have preceded them and detailed comprehensive histories and blueprints are available in our archives.

Part II

Part I ended with the renovation of Wesley's Sanctuary, the voting down of a new Sanctuary, and the pastorate of Mahlon Elliott. The early 1970's saw Wrightson Tongue arrive as the new pastor, and ground breaking for the Fellowship Hall on November 14, 1971.

Wesley's Church Staff included Pre-school Director and Teacher, Marge Doeppner; and Music Director, Lois Bayne. Church attendance continued to grow under Tongue's charismatic leadership and peaked around a thousand members. Many programs, Bible Studies, Sunday School Classes and Youth Group trips filled the 1970's.

With the arrival of the 1980's came a new pastor, Reverend Jim Godwin. During the Godwin years, the Fellowship Hall roof was altered and repaired at a cost of $53,460. Each renovation and addition at Wesley was designed by our own church member architect Howell W. Richardson. Pam Chase became Youth Director and Lois Bayne became Church Secretary during the 1980's.

In 1988 William Kessler was sent to be our new pastor. The Youth Group went on mission projects, gleaning weekends and ski trips. The Madrigal Singers from Mt. Vernon High School came each December to sing during Sunday worship.

In 1991 Roy Miller arrived as pastor. The size of the congregation had declined over the last two decades as children grew up and the neighborhood grew older. Good things still happened at Wesley, but on a smaller scale. During these years the Sanctuary was painted and a new carpeting installed.

The year 1995 was a year of transition. Reverend George Gravitt arrived as pastor. The church took a hard look at its finances. Pam Chase retired as Youth Director. The office hours of the Secretary were reduced to fit the midsize church Wesley had become. An incredible visitation program - Love Reaches Everyone - was begun. Their goal? To visit Every church member! Teams went out every Sunday. Lisa Mitchell became our organist. In January of 1996 Wesley changed from two services to one 10:00 a.m. service. The Congregation enjoyed coming together for one service, attendance averaged 90 people.

The departure of George Gravitt in 1996 allowed the church to lower the pastor's salary to fit the financial circumstances of the church. Teresa Smith arrived as pastor. The neighborhood was changing, renovating, and new families were arriving. The Scout Troop was growing by leaps and bounds. The LRE visits made a difference. Kevin Rowland volunteered to lead the Youth Group.

In 1997 Wesley purchased all new church windows and a new organ. Renovations took place all over the church from the parlor to the bathrooms. Wesley began to really shine. The Children's Choir began to grow. The late 1990's and year 2000 saw some paid and volunteer staff changes. Mary Pryor became secretary, Darlene Spurlock became Pre-school Director, and Dave Chase became Handbell Choir Director. Wesley's financial situation had improved enormously. Mission giving increased by huge leaps and bounds. Costly replacements of an air conditioning system and sewer pipe were able to be paid in full.

The year is 2001. Last Sunday, 178 people came to worship.


What did our Sanctuary look like in the 1950's and 60's?

Photographs show a dramatically different picture. There were many steps leading up to an altar placed against the front wall with a curtain behind it.

At the foot of the altar steps was the choir, set up in rows facing one another. The piano was against the right wall near the Sacristy. The current pulpit was the lectern. The pulpit of the time was even larger and elevated. Rows of metal folding chairs were set up.

The room was rearranged every other week for a Spaghetti Dinner to raise funds. The current pastor's office was the kitchen and food was passed through the blank windows located in the front left side of the current Sanctuary. There was no carpeting. The walls were not blue. Reverend Elliott and a group of volunteers renovated the sanctuary early in 1970.

Subsequent years have seen ongoing change in our buildings and the Sanctuary. New paint and carpeting were installed in 1991. New choir robes were also purchased during this time. Then in 1997 new windows and a new organ were purchased and installed.

From "The Beginning" to "Ground Breaking"
1953 - 1956


It has been said that two hundred years ago Francis Asbury, the first Bishop of American Methodism, visited the Mount Vernon area and expressed a desire to see a Methodist Church built here. However, it was not until the summer of 1953 that the need for a church in the Mt. Zephyr area was recognized by Mrs. Waddell, Mrs. Koogle, and Mrs. Rossie. These three ladies lived in the area with their families and realized that there was no church or Sunday school to which their families could go.

Always with the innate desire to establish a family community, with necessary facilities for religious instructions, they solicited the help of their husbands and gradually interested others in the community. After many discussions amongst themselves, Mrs.. Rossie and Mrs. Waddell then called on Dr. T. B. Landis, the minister of the Washington Street Methodist Church in Alexandria. Dr. Landis volunteered the help of the Reverend Mr. George C. Henley, the associate minister of the Washington Street Church. Mr. Henley pledged his support and suggested that a meeting place be obtained first so plans could then be made for the first meeting.

With no sanctuary conveniently available, permission was requested and received from the Fairfax County Public Schools to hold services in the Mt. Vernon High School on Richmond Highway, south of Alexandria. After much conversation, survey, and meeting with the Alexandria District Superintendent, Dr. John Pearson and the Executive Board of Missions, authorization was given to go ahead with organizing a new church under the sponsorship of the Washington Street Methodist Church and by the Assistant: Pastor, Reverend George C. Henley. Reverend Henley took on the work at Wesley as an added duty. His salary was still paid by the Washington Street Church.

JANUARY 1954-MAY 1954


On January 17, 1954, after a heavy snowfall the night before, religious services were begun at the Mt. Vernon High School with Church school meeting at 10:00 a.m. and Worship service at 11.00.

The Reverend George C. Henley delivered the first sermon on this date with 30 persons in attendance. At the service, Mr. Henley introduced Mr. Edward Dunn, the Sunday School Superintendent of the Washington Street Methodist Church. On this date a Church school was also started with Mr. George G. Koogle as the first Sunday School Superintendent. There were 52 children attending.

The Alexandria District of the Methodist Church, since sub divided into the Alexandria and Arlington Districts, was alert to the need for new churches. This community was one of very active growth due to the expansion of the Federal Government. A program had been started to help establish new churches and it was actively supported by the existing churches in the district. .Wesley was one of the churches which received encouragement and financial help from the neighboring churches.

Holding the services in the high school, of course, involved more work, as chairs had to be set up and taken down for each service. Songbooks and other materials had to be transported to and from the services since no storage space was available. In this respect, both Mr. and Mrs. Edward Dunn of the Washington street Methodist Church were eager and willing and a great help.

Under Mr. Henley's able guidance, a church organization was established and an official board elected. Mr. J. Thomas Blair was elected lay leader and Mr. Howell Richardson was elected lay chairman of the official board. The board, meeting in the homes of various members, selected the name for the new church. It was named for the two great founders of Methodism in England -- John and Charles Wesley.

Thus, on Easter Sunday, April 18, 1954, Wesley Methodist Church was chartered with 54 members. Dr. John H. Pearson, Superintendent of the Alexandria District, the Methodist Church, was in charge of the service with the Reverend George Henley assisting.

Graham Road Methodist Church gave a folding altar, a folding pulpit, and a set of altar rails complete-with red velvet cushions to the new church with the understanding that these items would be passed on to another new church when we no longer had need for them. Since there was no storage space available in the school, these items were kept in the George G. Koogles' basement and transported to and from the school each Sunday. The altar paraphernalia (cross, candle sticks, and baptismal bowl) was borrowed from the Navy Chaplain Corps.

June 1954-May 1958


The Reverend Mr. George Henley continued to serve as pastor until the annual conference on June 18, 1954, at which time the Virginia Annual Conference appointed the Reverend Mr. Clifford L. East, Jr., as the first full-time pastor. The Church rented an apartment at 504 Belle View Blvd., Alexandria, Apt A-2, for the use of the minister as a parsonage. The Board of Church Extension of the Alexandria District paid for Mr. East's salary. A graduated scale by which Wesley would take over the payment of the pastor's salary was established. This plan was the method used for a number of other new churches which had been or were being established.

The Board of Church Extension had established a program to aid the establishment of new churches. The program provided for the procurement of property on which to build a church, such property to be selected by the members and approved by the District. The program also provided $20,000 funds towards the new church building after the members had raised the first $10,000.

So, a building fund was started in August of 1954 with the thought in mind of raising the needed $10,000. Hopefully with the money in hand and the plans for the building that had been approved by the official board, the Conference would be asked to approve the plans and to contribute the $20,000.

During the next few months while the work was going forward to raise the needed money, all efforts were concentrated on getting new members for the church. It was determined that at least 300 members would be required to support the financial obligation placed on the church after the construction was begun.

A choir was organized in July and the first practice was held in the home of Mrs. Fred Bayles who served as the first pianist, with Capt. J. F. Smith serving as the choir director.

After the appointment of Mr. East, Mr. Clarence Wesley (C.W.) Kitchens was elected lay leader and led the first Layman's Day Service on October 10, 1954.

The property for the new church was selected by a Sites Committee appointed by the Official Board. After approval by the District Board of Missions and Church Extension, the property 3.5 acres of land located on the corner of Richmond Avenue and Mt. Zephyr Street, just adjacent to the Mt. Vernon High School, was bought and presented to the congregation by Reverend Raymond Wrenn of the Alexandria District on October 17, 1954. The property at that time was valued at $12,800 and included eight (8) lots. A survey of the area was started this same day for the purpose of adding new members to the Church.

A Women's Society of Christian Service was organized on October 29, 1954, with 14 ladies in attendance. Mrs. Oakley Walter was elected the first president.

The first child born to members of Wesley was David Wesley Haynes on November 11, 1954, son of Mr. and Mrs. Claude Haynes, Jr. The child was named after the church.

The year 1955, like 1954, was filled with much activity among the membership at Wesley. A Methodist Men's Club was organized with Mr. J. M. Kees being elected the first president. Also, a class to train children desiring church membership was held. And, on January 9, 1955, the church added the name of its 100th member, Mrs. May Taylor Bender.

The winning of new members was a major emphasis. "Every Member Gets a Member" was adopted as a goal by the Board, the purpose being that every member get someone to join the church by Anniversary Sunday, April 17. Unfortunately, this goal was not achieved, but the congregation kept on trying. A "Fisherman's Club" met for the first time in May whose purpose was to visit prospective members for the church.

The Nominating Committee recommended to the Fourth Quarterly Conference on February 23, 1955, that in order not to over work any one person in the church that no one person serve in any one job longer than three successive years at any one time. They would be elected at each fourth quarterly Conference to serve one year and not more than a total of three successive years. After serving a period of three successive years, a person could be relieved from this office, but elected to fulfill the duties of another office. After a period of one year, a person may be re elected to the office from which he or she had been relieved.

On January 16 a rosebud was placed on the altar in honor of Phyllis Jean Ayres, infant daughter of Mr. and Mrs. P. Ayres, and the practice of placing a rosebud on the altar each Sunday to honor new babies born during the previous week was initiated.

On March 29 the first meeting of the Building Committee was held and Mr. H. N. Richardson was appointed to draw plans for the new church.

Reverend Clifford L. East, Jr., performed the first wedding of the new church on September 3, 1955. John David Blunt and Jane Marie Sowman were married at the Mt. Vernon Methodist Church because our church building had not been started.

The Methodist Youth Fellowship held its first meeting on September 25, 1955.

In October a church nursery was opened during the worship Service for the first time for the ages 1 day to 6 years.

Our October 2, 1955, bulletin requested: "Let's be known as a friendly church and we can be just this by not leaving the church this morning without speaking to at least two people that you don't know. It will not hurt, but it will surely help."

A number of dinners, picnics, and other activities were held in 1955 to help the members get to know each other better and to benefit the Building Fund. By the end of the year, this fund reached a total of $7,495.81.

Wesley continued to grow and became even more important to the life of the community as 1956 rolled around.

The Commission on Membership and Evangelism sponsored a visitation program on February 5, 1956, for the purpose of securing new members for the church. The bulletin stated "It falls the responsibility of every member of the church to attend. We cannot build our church without more members and we can't get members by staying home talking about it. We will be looking for you this afternoon."

Early in 1956 the plans for the new church were nearing completion and it was apparent that the $10,000.00 needed to build the church was within reach. With encouragement from the District, the plans were put out for bids on March 26 and the bids were opened on April 16, 1956. The low bid was $118,900.00. It was a bitter blow as this exceeded both our means and our estimates. However, the pastor and his people were not daunted. The contractor, E. H. Glover, helped with suggestions on how to reduce costs. A new negotiated cost of $104,500.00 was arrived at and additional financial resources found in a lender who would take a second mortgage.

The report of the trustees showed that the church had received a construction loan, grants, and the Building Fund for a total of $105,000.00 which amount as immediately disbursed. Specifically, the report showed a first trust of $60,000, a second trust of $15,000, a grant from the District Board of Missions of $20,000, and the Building Fund of $10,000.

The contract was then let to Glover and a ground breaking ceremony was held on June 24, 1956

Work actually started on the building on July 5, 1956.