A story in last week's Virginia Weekly incorrectly reported the location of the Cartersville Baptist Church. The church, in Vienna, is east of Reston and north of the Sunnybrook and Tamarack subdivisions.
To nearly every question about the future of Cartersville Baptist Church, the pastor, the Rev. Samuel Pearson, replies simply and faithfully: c"The Lord will provide."
But it might be nice if He would hurry. For Cartersville Baptist is in trouble. The problem is money -- about $105,000 that the Cartersville congregation needs to finish its new building.
Cartersville Baptist has been on Hunter Mill Road in Vienna for nearly 117 years. In that time, succeeding generations of parishioners have been the "new town" of Reston grow up on the east, and the coming of the Sunnybrook and Tamarack subdivisions to the north.
Eight years ago the old church burned to the ground in an incident Fairfax police say was arson. This June, a new building was dedicated on the same site, after the congregation finally finished paying for the cinder-block walls and the plywood roof. Every first and third Sunday since, parishioners have gathered to sing their praises to the Lord.
But without electricity, running water, plumbing and a heating system, Cartersville Baptist cannot pass a Fairfax County building inspection and obtain an occupancy permit. If services continue to be held in a building without a permit, county officials may be forced to do what arsonist could not: wshut down one of the oldest black churches in Northern Virginia.
If Cartersville Baptist dies, it would be a devastating blow to the 55 parishioners, all of them black and many of them decedants of Fairfax County slaves.
"I just wouldn't know what to do if there was no church," said Ollie Wooden Williams, 64, of Vienna, one of the congregation's two oldest members. "I've been coming here all my life. It would be the work of the devil."
Since the fire, the congregation has raised about $14,000, most of it in small donations from the white community in Reston. Along with $20,000 in fire insurance, the funds have given the church a new start, but not a finish. Church leaders have been adamant about rebuilding on a cash-only basis, they refuse to burden the congregation with long-term debts. Still, they realize that the decision could prove fatal.
We have to face it," says Ambrosia Pearson, the pastor's cousin. "We could be gone at any time."
Cartersville's ability to make it through the last two years, church leaders agree, has as much to do with the rare strain of interracial community spirit in Vienna and Reston as with the grit of the congregation.
Three time in the last five years, St. Mark's Catholic Church of Reston has taken up special collection for the Cartersville building fund. St. Mark's parishioners have contributed $1,600.
Washington Plaza Baptist Church ran a spaghett-dinner fund-raiser that neted $1,000. The Council of Northern Virginia Baptist Churches has contributed more than $2,000. And more than 1,000 individuals, none of whom has ever attended a service at Cartersville, have contributed more than $9,500, usually just after the Reston Times printed one of the eight stories it has carried over the years about Cartersville's dilemma.
Joseph M. Lyle is one of the donors. A retired Navy vice admiral, Lyle gave Cartersville $500 last spring, even though he had never been in the church and did not know anyone who is in the congregation.
"Basically, I guess I felt sorry that they were having so much trouble," Lyle said. "Here was a small group of dispossessed people clinging to a remnant of an old culture.The world's kind of passed them by, you know?
"Besides, there has always been a great sense in Reston of helping out," said Lyle, who has lived there since 1965. "I just saw the need."
So did Bob Dawson, former editor of the Reston Times. Dawson arranged a deal with a Reston plumbing company: The company would donate fixtures to Cartersville as long as the church paid for the labor. The offer still stands, "and I have a guilty spot in my soul that I haven't done more," Dawson said.
API Inc. may have done more than anyone.A Northern Virginia land development company, API owns 226 acres east of the church and plans to build townhouses there. Very few developers give land away, but two years ago, API did exactly that: It gave Cartersville Baptist one-third of an acre for a church parking lot.
"We felt it was important to make for happy neighbors later," said Joan Smith, corporate secretary for API. "We felt the church should be buffered, and we really would have crowded them out if we hadn't given them the land. It'll benefit the community as a whole in the long run."
But Joseph Bertoni, the chief building inspector for Fairfax County, says that using a building for religious services even two hours a week constitutes occupancy, and occupancy is illegal without a permit.
"Right now, they wouldn't be eligible for a permit," Bertoni said. "Simply on the basis of what you're telling me, if they have services in there, I'm going to recommend we look into it."
The church and its deacons could be fined as much as $1,000 if services continue to be held in a building without an occupancy permit, Bertoni said.
Annette Pearson, the pastor's wife, said the congregation was given free use of the Knights of Columbus Hall in Vienna for several years and could probably arrange for that space again.
"But our people won't attend when we hold service there," she said. "Sometimes we only get five people when we're there. "It's just not a sacred place, and it isn't our place. We're trying to be independent. We don't want to take advantage."
Meanwhile, winter is fast becoming the most critical factor of all.
Last Sunday, as Pastor Pearson raised his arms and greeted his flock by declaring, "The Lord is in His holy temple," it was a seasonable 51 degrees outside. Inside, however, it was definitely unreasonable. Most of the women in the congregation were wearing overcoats and many of the men were rubbing their hands together.
Pastor Pearson, a soft-spoken man who is a retired mechanic, has rigged up a gas-burning generator, which he brings to the services each Sunday in the bed of his pickup.
Roaring outside throughout the service, the generator provides enough power for a light on the lectern, another beside the piano and a small electric-coil heater. "But two weeks from now, even with the electric heater, it might be too cold to use this place," Pearson said.
One way Cartersville Baptist could improve its chances for survival would be to attract more members.
Reston is the likely hunting ground, since most of the original parish families -- the Woodens, the Honestys, the Fairfaxes and the Carters -- have died or moved away in search of better jobs. Therefore, when Rod and Opehelia McLean, a young professional couple with four children, became members of Cartersville this summer, "our joy was great," Pearson said.
The McLeans live in Reston but grew up in Brooklyn, and they acknowledge that a country church like Cartersville is 180 degrees different from what their home churches were.
"But we knew from the first day that this is where we were supposed to be," said Rod McLean, a 29-year-old computer engineer for a firm at Tyson's Corner. "People do things for the Lord here. And that's what we want to do, too."
Richard Cockrill, 46, has lived on a farm adjoining Cartersville Baptist all his life, and he still works the 13 acres his family has not sold to developers or given up to make way for the Dulles Access Road. He says he is "rooting for the church to make it, but I don't see how then can without a whole lot of money from somebody."
"It's not that people don't want them here," said Cockrill, whose family has run a farm in the area for five generation and whose grandfather employed two Cartersville Baptist deacons as field hands. "I would like them here, as a matter of fact. I have very strong memories as a boy coming from the church, walking down to Difficult Run for a baptism, singing.
"But like everyting else, it's a matter of dollars and cents. They look to me like they're struggling."
So, in a way, is Rose V. Carter, a freed slave who gave the church the quarter acre on which it sits and whose name the church bears.
Carter is buried in a field 500 yards east of the church. But her headstone has been pushed over and her grave is overgrown with wild boysenberries. Ollie Williams thinks it's a "disgrace," and she recently asked Pastor Pearson what could be done to restore the gravesite.
"The Lord will provide," Pearson replied, "just like with the church. It's a matter of time."