Avery few churches in Virginia have been part of the community for centuries, and Little River Baptist Church (LRBC) is one of them. The church has been a landmark at 40385 Braddock Road in Loudoun County, Aldie, Va., for many years, and on August 3rd and 4th of this year, the Little River Baptist Church 250th Anniversary Celebration was a story-telling time – a time to tell the history of neighbors gathering and supporting this church with praise and thankfulness for its duration, survivals, and successes.
The church was established in 1769, is the second oldest Baptist Church in Northern Virginia, and the fifth oldest Baptist Church in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Its 160th Anniversary Celebration was held in 1929, which was quite a celebration way back then. When churches, institutions, or organizations in society celebrate an anniversary, they usually include their history and the history of the societies which recognize them as part of their histories, and the Little River Baptist Church 250th Anniversary Celebration, known as the Heritage Day, did all that. The two days of service, programs, and activities included stories about the church’s involvement in the community as a gathering place and a place of worship for those of the Christian faith.
The celebration at LRBC on Saturday afternoon, August 3rd, began with food and music under the church’s new pavilion as church and community members gathered to dedicate the pavilion and to thank those who helped plan and build it. Old Time Way Bluegrass Gospel’s music filled the air while Uncle Rockers BBQ served its delicious food. Reverend Dan Hough, Pastor, welcomed everyone. He led the dedication and then recognized Joseph Kent Excavating, Inc.; Stan Settle Timber Ridge Management; Matt Kroll, Site Engineer; Chantilly Crushed Stone; and James C. Kennedy, whose leadership started the project, as those instrumental in planning and completing the pavilion. The music continued throughout the afternoon, and those attending joined in the songfest of old-time gospels. There was a great deal of clapping and singing along with the gospel singers as friends greeted friends.
The second part of the Heritage Day continued the next day. Those entering the sanctuary Sunday morning were greeted by church members in appropriate 18th Century dress, a statement of the church’s long and enduring past. Reverend Hough, Pastor, and Becky Sweet, Music Director of the LRBC Choir, led the congregation in the service with music, recognition of special guests, history moments, prayers, addresses, remembrances, a sermon, praise, photograph taking, and lunch, all in a celebratory spirit. Special guest, Dr. Dee Witten, Executive Director of Northstar Church Network, addressed the congregation and offered ideas for growth. Debbie Workman gave history moments for all four centuries beginning with the 18th through the 21th, and the fifteen-member choir sang congregational hymns including a special 18th Century traditional hymn. The Reverend Jim Smith’s (Bea Smith’s) family’s testimonial told of experiences in the 1960’s when Reverend Smith served as a LRBC pastor. Reverend Walter Agnor gave the offertory prayer. The service continued as the members reflected on the church’s development through the years.
The history of LRBC is an inspiring story as the church dates back to a time before the United States was a recognized nation. The church began under the leadership of Elder David Thomas and Richard Major. In 1972, land was purchased, the first church was a one-room log building that already stood on the site, that church was also used as a school, and the congregation grew from 15 to 272 within two years. Considering the distances between those living in the area, the difficulty of travel between places, and the lack of communication systems in those days, that beginning was amazing.
The church buildings changed several times through the years. In 1775, the second church was built on the permanent site at Braddock. The third church, a brick building, was built in 1814. Then in 1888, that church was torn down and replaced with a timber-framed building which was dedicated in July, 1890. A baptistry was added in 1895, and a two-story addition for the Sunday School program was completed in 1952. Then, after a fire destroyed the church in 1971, the fifth and final church was built in 1973.
There were, of course, a number of ministers who served the church through all those years. Those recognized as part of the church’s history are Reverend Timothy Hall, Reverend Trainham, Reverend Joseph M. Long, Reverend James H. Smith, Reverend Joseph B. Anderson, Reverend Jesse Parker, Reverend Malcolm McMillan, and Reverend John L. Carey.
The stories told about the church fire were heartbreaking. On a Saturday, Reverend Anderson had turned on the heater to warm the water in the baptistry for the next morning’s service, the heater malfunctioned, and the church burned. When told of the fire, the minister’s then five-year old son began to cry and asked if the baby Jesus had burned in the fire. There had been a painting of the Christ Child on the altar, and, of course, the painting was lost in the fire.
During the telling of the history and the testimonials, it was apparent that although the church’s history is one of many successes as it has survived when other churches have not, there were times when things were difficult for the church too, especially during wartime. Before the American Revolution, its minister himself was subject to official persecution, and even prosecution. During the American Civil War, funds were extremely limited, for example. When the church burned, the members had to meet at the nearby Arcola School until a new building could be erected. However, the church’s dedication to its faith has sustained it as a congregation and as a part of the community.
As Heritage Day continued, Dr. John V. Upton, Executive Director of the Baptist General Association of Virginia, delivered the sermon, “The Four Gestures of Grace,” with reference to the Biblical story of Jesus Christ feeding the multitude of five thousand who had gathered to hear him. Dr. Upton told this story as an analogy to Little River Baptist Church and its influence in the community, i.e., that Christ’s blessing, breaking, dividing, distributing the loaves as sustenance, and consequently the spreading the faith was similar to what LRBC has done as a congregation through the years. After the hymn of dedication, “Amazing Grace,” Reverend Hough gave the benediction and blessing. The congregation gathered for a group photograph in the sanctuary and then adjourned to have lunch and enjoy more fellowship.
The Sunday afternoon’s celebration had more music, history, testimonials, great conversations, and guest speakers. Reverend Hough welcomed those attending and introduced Dr. Nathan L. Taylor, Executive Director of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society and the Center for Baptist Heritage and Studies, who shared a story about what it meant to be a Baptist in 1769 and who told that some Baptists were actually jailed during that time for preaching without a license. The BBC (Blind Carbon Copy) Band, a group of area musicians, played a number of compositions. Phyllis Randall, Chair-at-Large of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, gave greetings from the county. Reverent Alan and Brenda Hurst, former members of LRBC, sang and gave a testimony regarding their memories of the church.
As the celebration came to a close, the LRBC Choir sang special music for the occasion and led more congregational singing. Reverend Hough gave a “Declaration of God’s Goodness” message and ended the anniversary celebration with a benediction.
Reflecting on the Heritage Day, Reverend Hough stated he is encouraging LRBC to continue taking an active role in the changing Aldie community. In addition to regular services, the church has begun offering several new programs and activities: Bible Study, Vacation Bible School, Trunk or Treat, Easter Sunrise Service, Valentine Karaoke, as well as Christmas and Easter music presentations by the LRBC Choir. For more information regarding the church, its services, programs, and activities visit the website, www.LittleRiverBaptistChurch.org.