George Washington and Robert E. Lee spent many Sundays there. And on the National Day of Prayer during World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took Winston Churchill there to worship.
Alexandria's Christ Church's rich heritage has always been a source of pride to the Episcopal churchhs leaders and members. But lately they've been worrying that historic background is overshadowing their present ministry.
"Too often people think of us as a place they stop to visit on their way to Mount Vernon," said the Rev. Dr. Mark S. Anschutz, church rector.
So Anschutz wants a new image for the 206-year-old church.
He brought a seminarian to Christ Church for the summer. He will begin tackling the problem by surveying community groups to see how they perceive the church.
"Most of the people I've surveyed in Old Town are familiar with Christ Church and talk about its beauty and heritage," said Michael Moss, the seminarian. "But they usually don't know what denomination we are or when our services are."
Anschutz says his church helps people through programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, day care and emergency food and shelter. "If we can't help some of the people who come to our door," said Anschutz, 34, "then we find a community or government agency than can."
Christ Church also is involved in ALIVE a community ministry in Alexandria designed to aid the poor and elderly. Profits from the church's sourvenir shop, which sells colonial mementos to 80,000 to 100,0000 church tourists yearly, also are donated to "Meals on Wheels," another program aiding the elderly.
The colonial church, with its carefully preserved grounds surrounded by an iron fence and brick wall, is sometimes mistaken for a museum, Moss said. Red brick walkways pass between the old graveyard and restored church buildings.
Inside the church, the narrow pews still have their old hinged doors. The small crystal chandeliers, the "wine glass" pulpit and the plaques marking the pews of Washington and Lee are reminders of the church's history.
The problem of keeping the church's heritage and decor from overshadowing its present ministry is a difficult one, Anschutz said. "I'm not entirely sure how we're going to do it," he said.
Tour guides will continue stressing the church's community service, Anschutz said, and "we changed our ad in the phone book by adding times of church services," he said. "But I'm not sure if that will change anything."
Anschutz said that possibly he'll circulate the church newsletter more widely. But he said that church members most likely will have to do the re-educating.
"The way most parishes prosper anyway is when their members tell others about their church. And I guess that's what we're going to have rely on." CAPTION: Picture 1, Alexandria's Christ Church, rich in history, is trying to go beyond museum image. Photos by Margaret Thomas - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Michael Moss, a seminarian, will seek ways to change the image of the church.