Church of the Apostles

January 10, 2020

Home at Last: Church of the Apostles Ready to Reach A New Community

Thanks to David Harper, shepherd of 26 years; Nick Braunschneider, our new Joshua; & especially Joe Acanfora, our Moses.

During the service of consecration and thanksgiving for Church of the Apostles’ new church home in Fairfax, Virginia last month, I was surprised and filled with joy when I closed my eyes. Remaining behind closed eyelids was the image of the cross that was against the back wall of the chancel. I suddenly remembered how I used to love “seeing” that cross while praying at Church of the Apostles’ first Meeting Place. I had missed out on that experience for over seven years.

That Meeting Place was a modest structure also nicknamed “the warehouse” for obvious reasons. It was built in 1979 on land Apostles purchased from the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. Like other evangelical and spirit-filled parishes in the diocese, we had an interesting relationship with the Episcopal Church. But after years of attempting to “stand firm” for the gospel and remain, it became apparent that we could no longer live out our mission in a denomination that was abandoning Biblical truth and the Lordship of Christ.

Apostles and a number of other parishes voted to leave the Episcopal Church in 2006. We would henceforth identify as Anglicans, embracing and being embraced by leaders of Biblically orthodox Anglicanism in the Global South. That was a costly decision for all of us.

In January 2012, NPR spoke to the Reverend David Harper (rector of Apostles from 1986 until his retirement late in 2012) about what transpired with that decision:

According to David Harper. . . “The Episcopal Church has developed a scorched-earth policy.” Harper says that in late 2006, when the seven churches decided to leave, they worked closely with the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia to do what had been done in other states — figure out a way to stay out of court and pay the diocese to stay in their church. But one day, Harper says, the negotiations fell apart. The Episcopal bishop told him, “There’s a new sheriff in town.”

Katharine Jefferts Schori. . . had just become presiding bishop of the national Episcopal Church in late 2006 when she told the Diocese of Virginia to stop negotiating. . . .Within weeks, the Diocese of Virginia and the national Episcopal Church sued the Anglican churches. Initially, the judge in the case ruled in favor of the breakaway congregations, but after being reversed on appeal he awarded almost everything to the Episcopal Diocese.

After losing that last court battle we were forced to surrender all of our assets – building, land where we had intended to build a new church home, finances, and material property – to our former denomination.

In February 2012, as we prepared to depart into our years of exile, it seemed appropriate that our last two gatherings at The Meeting Place were the Ash Wednesday Service and The Father’s Blessing. Ash Wednesday ushered in the season of Lent. Through human eyes, it seemed as if we were entering a long Lent, longer than we had ever known before. We left our home first for rented shared space with another local church and most recently for renting a local elementary school.

But the very last service at The Meeting Place was our regular Friday service of prayer, praise, and healing – known as The Father’s Blessing. It was a time in which God revealed His Father-love and blessings to people from both inside and outside the church. People were healed physically, emotionally, and spiritually during those times of worship. And as our last hurrah, it was a way for us to say that we trusted God for whatever the future would hold. And that we would continue to be the Church of the Apostles God created us to be.

We took our name seriously. An apostle is a “sent one,” someone who is sent on a mission. A founding member of Apostles’ Praise Band, Lynn Dobbins, wrote a song that included our mandate from God:

Apostles of love, that’s what I call you,
Apostles of love, go in My power.

Jesus in you, the Hope of Glory:
Apostles of love, go with Me.
Apostles of love, go with Me.

From just my own limited perception, Church of the Apostles has been used by God in some extraordinary ways, going in Jesus’ power to be an instrument of healing to both the nation and the nations. Here are just a few of the more unusual examples:

  • In the early 1980’s we had a visit from a Ugandan pastor, Kefa Sempangi. Sempangi told us about the horror and deprivation Ugandan Christians were enduring under Idi Amin. We took up a collection to help. I can’t remember how much we raised, but I will never forget that several families put second mortgages on their homes and another family gave up their plans to renovate their kitchen in order to provide, among other things of course, “soap and salt” for displaced Ugandan Christians.
  • For over 27 years Church of the Apostles has been a regular member of “The Grate Patrol,” a feeding program for the homeless in Washington, DC who sleep on the city’s steam grates. Volunteers bring home-cooked soup and sandwiches and baked goods to the street people, serving from The Salvation Army’s canteen truck. One of the leaders of this ministry was Angie Houtz, a civilian Naval Defense Intelligence specialist who died at the Pentagon at age 28 in the 9/11 terrorist attack.
  • Apostles has supported over a dozen of our own long-term missionaries over the years, and has sent church members on dozens of short-term missions. One place where we have had five or six short-term missions is a place that few American Protestant Christians have ever been! I led the first three of those mission trips, to Crossmaglen and Darkley, South Armagh in Northern Ireland. These mission trips were about ten years before the historic Good Friday agreement. When our bus, driven by our friend Ian Bothwell, leader of Crossfire Trust ministry rolled into Crossmaglen, the British soldiers were on duty in high towers all around the town square. Over 32 years later, I am still in contact with about a dozen of the then children and teenagers from Crossmaglen and Darkley.
  • In 1990 Church of the Apostles held an “Eastern European Festival” with Christian friends from various denominations from four different Eastern European nations: Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and (then) East Germany. We shared their joy in the advances for freedom in their nations, celebrated the Lord together with them, and prayed for the healing of the nations and the complete end of Soviet oppression. And before that Soviet oppression ended, we had a short-term mission trip to Moscow and to Yerevan, Armenia to work with former Soviet prisoner of faith Alexander Ogorodnikov and others.
  • We may also be the only American Anglican (Episcopal then, of course) parishes to ever host two Vice Presidents of Sudan. Heck, we may be the only American church, period, to ever do it. A member of the Church of the Apostles, the late Herb Pearce, was part of the first Episcopal Diocese of Virginia mission trip to Sudan in the early 1990’s and we were part of a partner relationship with the Diocese of Renk in what was then Sudan, now South Sudan. Through Herb we hosted the Honorable Abel Alier who was made Vice President of Sudan because of the Addis Ababa agreement and served from 1971-1982, when the agreement was dishonored by Numeiri and Sharia was imposed on all of Sudan. In 2005, not long after the signing of Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South, we hosted the newly designated 1st Vice President of Sudan and President of the South Sudan Regional Government, Dr. John Garang. Over a thousand Sudanese and South Sudanese people showed up at The Meeting Place to see Dr. Garang, who died in a helicopter crash not long afterwards.

With such experiences in our past, it is exciting to imagine what God has in store for us in our new home. We have learned much in our seven+ years of exile.

We have understood what a blessing it is to suffer – in the tiniest bit – for the sake of the Gospel, knowing the tremendous suffering that our brothers and sisters around the world endure. We have realized that what man meant for evil, God used for good. As part of the Global Anglican Future (GAFCON) we are part of an extraordinary community of the faithful Anglicans from across the world. We are under the godly leadership of the Rt. Rev. John Guernsey in the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic, and part of the Anglican Church in North America under the godly leadership of our Archbishop, the Most Rev. Dr. Foley Beach.

Now we have installed again our cross, so lovingly built by some of the founding members of Church of the Apostles. We didn’t quite do the Children of Israel gig where we carried that cross wherever we went like they carried the Ark of the Covenant. It’s a big cross! 360 lbs! The carpenters replicated the size of the one on which Jesus was crucified. But like Israel, entering the Promised Land and bringing their wilderness Tabernacle and the presence of the Lord with them, we have come home to a new community to which we can show the love of Jesus. And the God who has never left us or forsaken us will continue to be present with us in our new home.


29 Responses to Home at Last: Church of the Apostles Ready to Reach A New Community

  1. Betty S McLendon says:

    I really enjoyed your article Faith! I did not know all of these things since I have only been attending since 2002! Thanks for sharing

  2. Mike says:

    How inspiring. My prayer is that with the split facing the United Methodist Church, the orthodox/traditional branch will have the same deep connection with the international church.

  3. Phil Rooney says:

    Thank you Faith!! A wonderful synopsis of our journey. He will NEVER forsake His Church of the Apostles!

  4. Sandy Green says:

    Thank you Faith for reminding us of so many memories of our shared history at COA! There were, and continue to be, so many Blessings to be found there! God will continue to use this church in many special ways!!!💕😊

  5. David says:

    As has been noted by others, the traditional depiction of the cross is likely unrealistic. A piece of lumber of that size would have been excessively costly in the arid Holy Land. Even King Solomon had to import wood from other areas for his temple.

  6. Ernestine Aberle says:

    As parents and grandparents of the Tyler Aberle family we have been blest all through your journey as we have visited through the years We know the Spirit goes with you in your new venture and our prayers Jim and Ernestine Aberle

  7. The Ven. Ronald Gauss says:

    Our exact same experience made Bishop Seabury Anglican a stronger body. God has blessed the congregation and it will survive all upcoming difficulties. TED has proven itself to be a mean, unchristian body. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord would have been the Christian response. I believe the Methodists have learned from TEC’s …

  8. Thomas Nealon says:

    Faith,

    Wow. Thanks for the article and the great memories of what God has done. I know he will continue to bless COA in the future.

    Tom Nealon

  9. Thomas Nealon says:

    Faith,

    Wow. Thanks for the great article and the great memories of what God has done. No doubt he will continue to richly bless COA for her faithfulness to Jesus and his Gospel. Blessings.

    • Faith McDonnell says:

      Thanks so much, Tom! I remember with great joy our mission trip to Crossfire Trust, and a certain pair of twins who adored you! God bless.

  10. David Wilson says:

    Great article, Faith. Thanks for the remembrance. My wife Gale and I attended COTA in 1986 while I was working for the Dept of Commerce in DC and we were living in Fairfax City. We started the same Sunday as David Harper. You congregation was a like a life boat for us as we had no friends or family when we arrived.

    We moved back to Pittsburgh in the fall of 1986 and soon after I began seminary at TSM. After ordination , I pastored 2 parishes in the Diocese of Pgh, and like Apostles we lost our building to TEC and had to start over. We moved into a closed RC Church in a new community nearby. God blessed us the entire way. Amen.

    The Rev Canon Dr David Wilson

    • Faith McDonnell says:

      Great to hear from you, David. I love hearing everyone’s story. And I am reminded of a gospel song that the unlikely Tom Waits recorded that says “He’s never failed me yet.”

  11. Jeanne Hickey says:

    Thanks for this great synopsis, Faith! I often visited COTA in the 80’s -90’s when my parents, John and Lydia Boyd were members. The uplifting praise and worship and solid Word were always terrific and the church’s heart for mission even better! My parents moved on to Church of the Messiah in Chesapeake where they hosted several Sudanese “Boys.” (Now Mom is a member of Light of Christ Anglican in Heathsville.) As we at Light of Christ continue to see God’s will and direction for our small, older congregation, rural church, this article will serve as encouragement and inspiration! Thank you! May God continue to bless COTA and all those who stand on the Word!

    • Faith McDonnell says:

      Thanks so much, Lydia! How wonderful. And how God has connected so many of us with His precious sons and daughters from Sudan and South Sudan!

  12. Lauren Homer says:

    Great article Faith. “Stones of remembrance” to the great things that happened at Church of the Apostles and I’m sure that will continue. Each had eternal consequences despite the worst efforts of the Episcopal Church’s leaders during those dark days of litigation.

  13. Jerry & Celine Baker says:

    Glad to of had Church of the Apostles as part of our journey of growing in the Lord. Have received from this beautiful communion of saints and thankfully been able to contribute as well. May God‘s full vision for Church of the Apostles be realized. 🥰🙏🏼

  14. Faith, your writing captures the energy and giving nature of this Anglican church with an apostolic anointing. This church is also a place of equipping for those whose tour of duty in the DC area is short but sweet. The events hosted benefited the region and neighboring churches and this will continue I’m sure.

  15. LeighAnn Hazel Groux says:

    Faith,
    It was wonderful to read your article and hear of how our God has worked through the faithfulness of CoA over the years. CoA has always been family to me and holds many precious memories in my heart

    • Aww! LeighAnn! Just saw your comment. So nice to hear from you. During this Quarantine Jeff Ling is doing Prayer and Praise in FB, and it brings such good memories of the Praise Band. I think because of our passion to praise Jesus, the Lord empowered us to do so many other things. Lots of love to you.

Leave a Reply to LeighAnn Hazel Groux Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *