Peace of Mind Church Joins With Community Church

One led a small, black church whose congregation was strapped from bills. The other had a growing, mostly white congregation.

So the two church leaders -- the Rev. Nathaniel R. Green and the Rev. Arlie Whitlow -- combined their congregations in hopes of helping each other. Green closed the doors of Peace of Mind Baptist Church in Reston and came to the 700-member congregation of Whitlow's Community Church in Sterling.

They say they hope the "marriage" will diversify both groups.

"America is never more racially divided than it is at 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning," Whitlow said. "Here was a rare opportunity to take a smaller, black church with some white church members and bring them together."

Green and Whitlow want to expand a program that Green started three years ago at Peace of Mind that provides food for the needy. The program, Messiah's Market, served about 50 people a week but was becoming too crowded in the church's Reston building. At the Community Church's campus, Green said, he plans to use 3,700 square feet of warehouse space to open a larger food pantry in the next few months.

Green founded his congregation eight years ago by turning a former model airplane museum on Samuel Morse Drive into a sanctuary. It grew to 40 families but had difficulties meeting expenses and providing programs.

"When you're paying the mortgage on two places, it gets very expensive," Green said. "The question became, `Did we want to make a little splash for God or a big splash?' There are already a lot of little churches out there, so we realized we could make a big splash for God by combining our resources."

He contacted his friend Whitlow last fall with the idea of combining the congregations.

Whitlow started the Community Church in 1982 after handing out dozens of fliers door-to-door with his wife and children. The congregation grew, and Whitlow has plans to open a youth facility in a warehouse behind the church and a residential facility for senior citizens later this year.

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CAPTION: Peace of Mind Baptist Church in Reston has merged with Community Church in Sterling, above, in an effort to save money and diversify the congregations of both churches. "Here was a rare opportunity to take a smaller, black church with some white church members and bring them together," said the Rev. Arlie Whitlow, far right, watching as the Rev. Nathaniel R. Green, pastor of Peace of Mind, hugs parishioner Emma Pearle.