- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2001

Like many local churchgoers, the Episcopalian residents of eastern Loudoun County, Va., are often stuck in weekday traffic as they commute to work from their Northern Virginia homes.

When Sunday comes, however, you won't find them reading their newspaper over a leisurely breakfast. Many get back in their cars with their families to drive as much as 45 minutes to the nearest Episcopal church, The Falls Church in Fairfax County.

This weekend, their trek could be decidedly shorter, since Sunday marks the opening of the Potomac Falls Episcopal Church, an offshoot of The Falls Church.

Its first official service will begin at 10 a.m. in Horizon Elementary School in Cascades, Va., the church's impromptu home for the foreseeable future. The morning worship will also include special music for the occasion, activities for children and a celebratory reception.

The new church serves the Cascades/Potomac Falls communities, one of the county's rapidly growing populations, the Rev. Jack Grubbs says.

"There's been a real emphasis on starting new congregations," adds Mr. Grubbs, formerly assistant to the rector at The Falls Church.

Loudoun County's robust population is behind that demand. (Its eastern region has expanded by more than 10,000 people during the last four years, according to the county's economic development office.)

The area is "a desirable place to live," Mr. Grubbs says, pointing to the bustling Dulles technological corridor and the bucolic landscape.

His congregation of mostly young families won't have a church of its own, though, for its first months, if not years, of service.

Each Sunday, volunteers lug in folding chairs and audiovisual equipment to convert the elementary school gym into a makeshift sanctuary featuring services both youthful in energy and faithful to the liturgy.

"We're a portable church," he says, smiling.

Mr. Grubbs says that the idea for a new church began about six years ago but that only until last year did serious plans begin.

"We started getting together on Saturday mornings in folks' homes, praying together, doing Bible study," he says. "We started putting the mission out there. It did spark folks."

For the past few weeks, the church has held services in the elementary school to spread word of its impending arrival.

In that time, Mr. Grubbs says he has spoken with his neighbors about important personal issues, from long workdays to the stress of their fast-paced lifestyles.

"Folks share their desires to have good marriages and teach their children good values," he says. "Parents ask, 'How can we teach and model faith to our kids?'

"We want to really help people come into a spirit of worship," he says.

Patty Butler, the church's children's ministry director, says the area has been transformed by its bulging population.

"There were farms here in the past. Now you have 30,000 households," Mrs. Butler says.

"It's all centrally located it's smack dab in the middle of Cascades," she says of the elementary school base.

That growth, she notes, represents a variety of age groups.

"You're able to pull on everyone's ideas. It makes it richer when you have so many different backgrounds," she says.

The new church, sponsored and partially funded by The Falls Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, will hold weekly prayer services and children's programs.

Children begin in Scripture classes with age-appropriate teachings. Then, all the age-groups unite in a setting both physically and intellectually scaled down for young worshippers.

"Everything's on a child's level," she continues, "It's personalized to what they're going through in their lives. 'Did you ever argue with your brother or sister?' The lessons and sermons are applicable to everyday life."

Tom Donnelly, one of the church's founding members, helps camouflage the gymnasium setting each week through projected visual displays and music.

"A school is still a school. It's hard to sugarcoat that pill," Mr. Donnelly says. "We try to make people aware that there's a liturgy that needs to take place."

The congregation isn't in a rush to find a permanent home. Its members have faith that an opportunity to construct a new church will eventually arise.

Which is how the church found its office space along Route 7 in Sterling, Va.

One day, a Realtor called, unsolicited, informing Mr. Grubbs of a seller with property in which he might be interested.

"When it's timely and right, amazing things can happen," Mr. Donnelly says.

"We're very blessed. We have a very mature church looking over our shoulder," Mr. Donnelly says of The Falls Church. "The ability to interact with our mother church has a great value to us."

Although the distractions of worshipping in a school will be part of the new congregation's growing pains, its members are content to embrace the bigger picture.

"Having somewhere where you feel a sense of community, it's one of the reasons to center something here," Mr. Donnelly says.

"Part of God's family is to provide a home no matter where you've been or where you come from," he says. "This is home."

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