It is Sunday at the Falls Church, and worshipers in the fellowship hall are quietly keeping pace with the morning service beamed from the sanctuary by closed-circuit television.
The big-screen television in the hall serves an overflow audience of churchgoers and an informal family service on the first Sunday of each month.
But in a broad sense, the color television represents something more in this historic Episcopal church. It shows how a church that spans more than two centuries has managed to preserve a rich past at the same time it has kept pace with modern times.
"We try to bend over backward to maintain a sense of tradition, but we're always coming up with new programs to deal with the times," said the rector, the Rev. John W. Yates II.
At first, the notion of a televised church service was a tough one for some longstanding church members. "They thought it would be absolutely terrible," said the church's business manager, Pete Pearson. "But it turned out it wasn't as evil as they thought it would be."
Now, as the church experiences a steady growth in membership, the Falls Church is searching for new ways to weave the church more tightly into the fabric of the town that took its name.
"A lot of people are not familiar with the Falls Church, even though the city is named after it," said Pearson, the church's business manager. "Our goal is to make our presence felt as a spiritual place and as an integral part of the city." Nearly half of the church's pledged income goes to help others outside the church.
Church officials hope that a multimillion-dollar renovation project planned for the church will help it become a greater focal point for the city in addition to providing much-needed room for a growing membership. When the renovation is complete in about two years, the Falls Church will have a new sanctuary that will hold more than double its current 350-person seating capacity, more than 20,000 square feet of new program space, and more than 13,000 square feet of renovated space.
The current sanctuary will be used for smaller worship services, weddings and funerals.
From the creaking wooden planks of the Colonial-white sanctuary to the tombstones on the well-kept church grounds, the history of the Falls Church runs deep.
George Washington occasionally worshiped there. The American Revolution and the Civil War swirled around it. A scattered rural community that became a city of nearly 10,000 adopted its name.
Situated near bustling South Washington and East Fairfax streets, the handsome, red-brick structure was built in the 1760s and got its name from being on the road to the Little Falls of the Potomac River.
The church served as a recruiting station for Fairfax militia during the Revolutionary War, and as a hospital and stable during the Civil War. It fell into disrepair and abandonment during both disruptive periods.
Now the church is the centerpiece of a fussed-over historical district in the heart of the city and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Any new buildings in the district will have to conform to specific architectural guidelines.
But there may be a reason why the Falls Church has not had the impact that it wants in the city that bears its name, said one historian. When the town of Falls Church began to coalesce as a community in the mid-1800s, other churches were also in place.
"The Falls Church has not been the principal institution around which the community has organized itself," said Ross Netherton, a former chairman of the city's historical commission and author of local history books.
Nevertheless, Netherton said, the Falls Church "would be missed terribly if something ever happened to it." He said there was a "quiet concern" when stories first began circulating about expansion plans.
The renovation will mark one of several incarnations the Falls Church has experienced since it was originally constructed as a wooden frame building in 1734. The upcoming project, which was approved by the congregation last month, will cost between $3.8 million and $4.6 million.
For some church members, the changes ahead are difficult to take.
"I've had a hard time with it," said 74-year-old Jessie Thackrey, whose family has been a member of the church since 1941. "I love that church building. I love the closeness, the feeling of being with friends. With a bigger building, it becomes a different atmosphere."
But still, Thackrey, who is the only woman to have served as the church's senior warden, said she realizes that an expansion must occur.
In recent years, the Falls Church's membership has grown about 8 percent a year and the church now counts about 2,000 individuals as members.
In many ways, the church reflects the evolving nature of Northern Virginia and Falls Church, an incorporated city of about two square miles just west of Arlington.
The church has a mix of government workers, double-income couples with children, young professionals and retirees.
To meet the needs of its thriving congregation, the Falls Church offers a series of Sunday services, seminars on sensitive topics such as divorce and infertility, and a new noon service designed to give more church-going flexibility during the busy work day.
Jim Shirey, a United Air Lines flight attendant, was one of more than a dozen worshipers who took advantage of the noon service on a recent Wednesday.
Shirey said his erratic schedule usually keeps him away from church on Sundays.
Shirey said of the service: "It's important for me to have at least one focused worship experience within the week. It's a real good way of getting my feet on the ground and my spiritual focus concurrent with that."