It looks like it won’t be “Happy Holidays” for a historic church building in Sterling.
According to Mark Gunderman and Bill Ewing, leaders of Save Old Sterling, the church that was established in 1857 as Lebanon Grove Baptist Church is scheduled to be demolished beginning Dec. 26.
The church was most recently used as a Baptist church as Guilford Baptist and Guilford Fellowship until 2013, when “Guilford merged with Sterling Park Baptist Church. After the merger, the congregation took Sterling Park Baptist Church as the name for its newly-unified local church located at 501 North York Road,” Gunderman wrote.
In September 2014 the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church bought the building at 1001 Ruritan Circle in Sterling from Sterling Park Baptist Church. Due to growth, EOTC is building a larger facility on that location.
According to Ewing, part of the Lebanon Grove building will be preserved.
“We’ve obtained permission and hired (someone) … to salvage what he can of the Ethiopian/Baptist Church before it’s demolished on Wednesday,” Ewing wrote in an email. “We’re pretty sure he’ll get the cute little cupola from the well house and several sets of church window sash (5 panes, pointed on top), maybe trim and maybe frames. He’s going to try to get siding (amazing, 14′ x 12″ boards). He says he has someone who can do the miraculous job of moving the well house (we’ll see but I’m skeptical.)”
Other efforts to save other structures in Old Sterling/Guilford continue.
Gunderman, a local historian, wrote this history of the former Lebanon Grove Baptist Church earlier this year:
“The Lebanon Grove Baptist Church was founded in 1857. Nobody seems to know where the original church was located or how it received its name. I can only surmise that the church resided somewhere in a cedar forest within the Old Sterling area. Similarly in 1871, Oak Grove Baptist Church, located just a few miles to the east, was renamed in part due to the stately oak trees surrounding the church grounds. Again in 1969, when Rev. Alfred Archer become pastor of a vacant church structure near Ashburn, his newly formed congregation gave the church its name of Cedar Lane Bible Way. The original structure, built in 1891 lay on a rural road bordered by red cedars.
However the original Baptists may have been thinking of Psalm 92:12, “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon.” In biblical terms, this means we will only grow as tall as we are rooted deep. The cedar of Lebanon is a cone-producing tree that can grow up to 120 feet tall. Its branches are wide-spreading, and go straight out horizontally 30 to 50 feet from the trunk. It was known in biblical times as “the king of trees.” The Hebrew word for cedar comes from a root word meaning firm. It is known for the “firmness of roots.” The term” cast forth his roots as Lebanon” means the trees of Lebanon cast their roots down into the earth as deep as they are tall.
According to a Loudoun Times Mirror article (March 10, 1966), “Will Dedicate Education Building,” Lebanon Grove was a congregation of 13, had no pastor and held one baptism in 1857. The Baptist General Potomac Association minutes list Rev. A.T.M. Handy as the first pastor sometime before 1875.
How the local community received the name Guilford is not certain. The Alexandria, Loudoun and Hampshire Railroad originally called the first rail stop in Loudoun “Guilford Station” when the railroad depot was built and the post office was created in 1860. According to Loudoun historian Eugene Scheel, President James Buchanan was still in office when the post office was established near a house he had visited during the summers of 1859 and 1860. Perhaps when considering Buchanan, locals or the railroad thought the chief executive’s name too difficult to spell or pronounce, and so they, or maybe the first postmaster, Richard H. Havener, opted for Guilford Station. The spelling was a corruption of “Guildford” (meaning a trading place by a ford), a city in Surrey, England. Of course, the nearby ford was Broad Run.
Guilford forever forged its name in history during the Civil War’s Gettysburg Campaign when the Guilford Signal Station was set up and served as an early warning post, observation point and communication center. On June 19, 1863, Union troops commanded by Gen. John Fullerton Reynolds, I Corps, Army of the Potomac, marched along the railroad from Herndon to Guilford Station. Reynolds established his headquarters in nearby Lanesville, erected the signal station on Stoney Hill, at 442 feet, one of the highest points between Washington, D.C. and Leesburg. The signal officer here constantly communicated with nearby signal stations attempting to locate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
In 1872, the postmaster renamed the rail stop Loudoun Station as it was the first stop over the Fairfax/Loudoun county line. But the name never became fixed with the locals. Many residents found it confusing to have the train depot share the same name with the county.
In 1873, Lebanon Grove Baptist changed its name to Guilford Baptist, ignoring the Loudoun designation and reflecting the more popular name of the surrounding community. Following suit in 1875, the Methodists named their new church Guilford Methodist. The Railroad had the station name changed one last time from Loudoun to Sterling in 1887. In 1890, the Methodists church name was changed to Sterling Methodist Church. The Baptists kept the Guilford name.
Relatively few records exist to document what actually occurred during the early years at Lebanon Grove and Guilford. For much of its existence Guilford served as a circuit church, sharing a minister with other Baptist churches. It had periods of growth and health and also several periods of decline where it closed its doors. Records reflect that the church remained open from 1954 to 2013. One thing we know for sure is that it is the church members who keep the faith and work for the Lord. It is God-loving people – past, present, and future – who bind a Church together and make the difference.
A collection of notes regarding the History of Guilford Baptist Church, documented in 1985 by an unknown author, identifies Rev. W. S. Kearns as the pastor in 1875. Rev. G. W. Popkins was ordained into the Baptist Ministry by Little River Baptist Church in Aldie in 1871. In 1876, at the young age of 21, he was ordained and called to serve all the Baptist congregations of the Broad Run area. This included Calvary Baptist Church in Ashburn (est. by Popkins in 1877), Mt. Hope Baptist Church in Waxpool (est. 1835) and Guilford in Sterling.
Rev. Popkins left in late 1878 to complete his formal education. After marrying Laura Lafever of Hillside sometime between 1880 and 1881, he settled just east of Waxpool.
In 1880, Guilford Baptist, then in an unknown building and location, purchased a 1.1 acre parcel of land on what was then Church Road (now Ruritan Circle) from William F. Sexton. The lot was bought for $20 by A. E. Ankers, Joseph M. Blincoe and Nelson Potter, deacons of said Church. Eugene Scheel cites in his book Loudoun Discovered that the church was built two years later in 1882.
The original church is a rectangular frame building with stone foundation, finished in board and batten. A square tower projects at the front which rises in three concentric stages to an open belfry capped by a pyramidal roof. Pointed arch windows echo the pointed arch transom over the front door.
Rev. Popkins returned to pastor at Guilford Baptist in 1888. He served as a Loudoun County Public School Trustee for at least sixteen years in the early 1900’s. He pastored the Broad Run congregations until his death on 9 February 1931.
The Baptist General Potomac Association of Virginia 1895 minutes cite Guilford Baptist as having 44 members and zero Baptisms during that year. In 1900, the minutes cite 43 members and 4 baptisms.
On March 15, 1897 the Sterling Methodist Church across the street was completely destroyed by fire. During this time the Methodists used the Baptist Church for worship until their church was rebuilt in 1899.
Rev. J. H. Strong is listed as pastor in 1931-32.
Rev. G. W. Triplet arrived to pastor the Broad Run churches in 1932. Rev. Triplet held services at Guilford the first and third Sunday afternoon each month. Triplet retired in 1940.
In 1941 the three circuit churches called Rev. George Edward Hughes as pastor. Calvary and Mt. Hope were the larger congregations and Guilford was only being used infrequently. Waterford Baptist (est. 1853) was added to the church circuit during this time period. Rev. Hughes resigned on May 31, 1948.
Calvary and Mt. Hope called Rev. D. Fowler as pastor. Fowler began his ministry on August 1, 1949 and served until May 24, 1953. Rev. Fowler was not a full time pastor at Guilford. However, he had a very positive influence on Lorenzo Clemens (a farmer by trade) and through his encouraging words and a calling from God to the ministry, Lorenzo accepted the Call and came to Guilford. During a regular business meeting at Calvary Baptist Church on October 19, 1952, the church voted unanimously to sponsor Mr. L. D. Clemens to be a licensed minister. A special meeting was then called on October 26, 1952 for the formal questioning and the Laying on of Hands and Rev. Clemens began his ministry.
During a church meeting on April 7, 1954, Rev. Clemens was officially called as pastor of Guilford Baptist Church. The church reorganized with 13 members. This is the first record of Guilford being on a field by itself with a full-time pastor. During Rev. Clemens ministry, the church was blessed and membership increased. It is recorded in the church meeting minutes that as the church congregation grew, many church repairs and upgrades were required. A church library was established, a well was dug and plans were begun for building Sunday school rooms.
In 1966, the two-story, 18-room east wing education expansion was completed and the auditorium was completely renovated. The church congregation comprised 87 members and the active Sunday school enrollment stood at 100 students.
The church held dedication services on Sunday, March 13, 1966 at 2:30 PM. The Rev. George E. Hughes, former pastor, then at London Bridge Baptist Church, Virginia Beach, was the dedicatory service speaker. The guest soloist was Rev. Ralph Fowler, also a former pastor, then serving at Remington, Virginia. The greeting from the Potomac Association was brought by Rev. Lester Marsh, Associational Missionary.
By 1970, Guilford Baptist had a full church program and the congregation continued to grow (115 members in the early 1970’s) as the Sterling community expanded. Rev. Clemens retired in 1973.
On July 9, 1973, the church called Rev. W. Hagewood as pastor. Rev. Hagewood was a young man just out of seminary. He was very active and excellent at visitation. During his ministry the church congregation continued to flourish (approximately 160 members). Folding doors were purchased to increase the number of classrooms in the fellowship hall. A Constitution and By Laws were adopted and disseminated. The church procured a bus for the youth ministry. A part-time church secretary was hired, along with a summer youth counselor. A house (Smith property) was purchased on a two-thirds acre lot next door with a plan for future expansion.
The church began a program to begin networking with other community churches in the 1980’s. Rev. Hagewood resigned in 1981 to become a foreign missionary and then began serving in the Dominican Republic.
On June 2, 1982, the church called Rev. Ted Miller as pastor. During the early 1980’s the church experienced a decline in membership and lost several key members. Guilford joined the LINK Food Pantry (a group of various denominational churches) in Sterling. The church leaders voted to allow LINK to build a structure on the west end of the property to manage a furniture delivery ministry to support families in need. The church also had aluminum siding installed on the main structure. Rev. Miller resigned on May 15, 1984.
The church called Dr. Bruce Miller as interim pastor from October 1984 to August 1985.
Rev. James Ailor became the pastor on August 25, 1985. The church began a Laymen’s seminary, purchased a new Hammond organ, upholstered the pews and elected a long-range planning committee. A prayer room was built that ten people could sit in comfortably with oak benches and a kneeling rail. During this time period, Guilford had a very strong choir (musicians and soloists) for a church its size.
The church grew gradually from approximately 45 in 1985 to 140 in 1993, then slipped back to 120 by 1995. The Church began two Sunday services, one contemporary and one traditional. Guilford was the first main line denominational church to have a contemporary service in the area. The congregation changed the name of the church from Guilford Baptist to Guilford Fellowship around 1987 because at the time many newcomers were not traditionally Baptist.
Small group ministries called Life Boats were established in the 1980’s. Many lasted for years with good friendships formed, remaining active even though most people moved out of the area. A youth program called the Thursday Breakfast Club was also established at the same time and which grew to 70 children and teens. At one point in time the church had as many teens in the Sunday morning worship services as there were adults.
Rev. Ailor served until January 1995.
Rev. Eric Lambert became the pastor and served from 1996 to 1998.
Rev. J. R. Lawson became the next pastor and served from 2002 to 2004.
The Sterling Park Baptist Church website History Section reflects that during the early 2000’s, Guilford had dwindled to just a few (seven or eight) faithful members and was without a pastor. In June of 2005, a church planting group from Capitol Hill Baptist Church, led by Pastor Mike McKinley, joined the congregation.
Subsequently, the Lord blessed the congregation with renewed vitality for ministry. God steadily grew Guilford until the congregation had to move to new and bigger venues for Sunday morning services, including Sterling Middle School and Park View High School in Sterling. During this time, God’s faithfulness also enabled Guilford to launch three church plants, one English-speaking church in Winchester, VA, two Spanish-speaking churches in Sterling and Herndon, VA as well as a food pantry, which began to serve needy families in the local community.
In the summer of 2013, Guilford merged with Sterling Park Baptist Church. After the merger, the congregation took Sterling Park Baptist Church as the name for its newly-unified local church located at 501 North York Road.
In September 2014 the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) bought the building at 1001 Ruritan Circle in Sterling from Sterling Park Baptist Church. Currently EOTC is flourishing in Sterling and enjoys a large and vibrant church community which has plans for expansion.”
Your can contact Mark Gunderman at firstname.lastname@example.org.