With the wind in her hair and the members of Catoctin Presbyterian Church around her, the Rev. Martha Z. Miller stood on a grassy knoll that was the church's first home and spoke to the congregation's children.
"We are standing today in the living presence of memory and hope between," she said, paraphrasing a Bible verse. Then, she stretched out one arm toward a few small graves behind her, in which are buried some of the 225-year-old church's first members.
"Here is the memory," she said, indicating the cemetery. "Absorb it, before you leave. And here," she concluded, looking down at the children, "is the hope."
With that, Miller summed up the spirit of the Waterford church's 225th anniversary, which the congregation celebrated Sunday. First situated about two miles east of Waterford, and now on Route 662 in the historic village itself, the church is the second-oldest Presbyterian congregation in the Washington area. The oldest is in Hyattsville.
Miller, who was ordained a minister at Catoctin Presbyterian Church on July 16, 1989, is the first woman to serve as pastor. She came to the church after an administrative job at the National Capital Presbytery, the governing body for Presbyterian churches in the metropolitan area. Before her arrival, the position had been vacant for three years.
According to the Rev. Edward Castner, acting head of the presbytery, even with an interim pastor, Catoctin had lacked "consistent spiritual leadership" from 1986 to 1989. Attendance dropped off, and so did participation in church programs, he said.
Since Miller arrived, a wide variety of programs have been started or strengthened, including religious instruction for children and adults, a youth group, choir, a softball team, a club whose members raise vegetables to send to a local food bank, regular church socials and the Catoctin Capers, a senior citizens group co-sponsored by the Loudoun County Department of Parks and Recreation.
"It's really turned around," Castner said, as he watched about 150 churchgoers stream out of the neat brick building Sunday.
Earlier, he praised the congregation for its community, calling members "very much a family, wherein you have supported each other and cared for each other."
Castner was one of several special guests at the church's anniversary day, which included not only his sermon but also addresses on Presbyterian as well as Catoctin church history.
Founded in 1765 by a few Scotch-Irish immigrants who moved to Waterford from Pennsylvania, the church, nearly from its inception, fought a hard battle to survive, local historian John Devine told the congregation. It lost its first pastor, the Rev. Amos Thompson, in 1776 when he left to be an army chaplain in the Revolutionary War. After Thompson's departure, the Catoctin church and a sister church in Arcola endured a succession of leaders until church members convinced the presbytery that they needed a permanent pastor.
Enter the Rev. David Bard in 1780. For two years of service, he was paid 200 bushels of wheat, 50 bushels of rye and 250 bushels of Indian corn.
The first church building, a small log cabin, was erected about 1770. The church has no definite records on when services ceased there, but a new brick building on the present site was erected between 1817 and 1833.
Often plagued with declining membership, the Catoctin Presbyterian Church then merged with and sep-arated several times from the larger Leesburg Presbyterian Church. In 1874, the Catoctin congregation became permanently self-sustaining, but four years later suffered another setback when its building caught fire.
The present church was completed, using the same bricks, on May 17, 1883. Its interior is wood, save for 19 stained-glass windows, decorated on Sunday with candles and cornstalks.
To further expose members to church history, Miller selected a mid-19th century liturgy for Sunday's service: "Good, solid traditional hymns," she said.
And as a final tribute to the church's Scotch-Irish ancestry, bagpiper Merton Meade played "Amazing Grace."
"I think there were a few tears in the eyes of more than a few people," Miller said.