On the Sunday after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, parishioners at Sterling United Methodist Church passed the plate in a special offering to aid victims. They ended up with more than $5,000.
But then again the church, which is celebrating its 130th anniversary this month, has a long history of helping those in need.
In 1906, the congregation collected $19.38 to help victims of the San Francisco fire. In 1985, Sterling members lined up truckloads of food and supplies for residents of Paw Paw, W.Va., who were driven from their homes by flooding. And when Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992, two dozen people from the church headed south with supplies.
"This is not just a one-week endeavor but will be an ongoing effort by our church," the Rev. C. Randolph "Randy" Duncan, who has been senior pastor at Sterling for about a year, said of the Katrina relief. "We see it as our Christian responsibility to serve people and to reach out and offer love and compassion."
Sterling UMC reaches out not just to disaster victims but to neighbors as well.
The church arranges collections of food and clothes for such local organizations as the Loudoun Abused Women's Shelter, Meals on Wheels and Loudoun Interfaith Relief Inc., a hunger relief program. Its Benevolent Fund provides ongoing help to those who have fallen on hard times. The church also houses a parochial preschool, Kids Under Construction, for children 3 to 5.
"We have always been a congregation of good, honest people," Duncan said. "This is a church for everyone, where people can get connected and find a warm welcome."
Worship in the Methodist tradition began in the Sterling area, then known as Guilford, with a series of meetings in private homes in the 1850s. The first record of Sterling Methodist as an established church was in 1875. The Methodist church was then the largest religious denomination in Loudoun County, according to the 1860 Census.
As membership grew, services were held in a one-room wooden structure on Church Road that was also a school. A church building was erected in 1895 but burned down in 1897. The church was soon rebuilt, and services were held there until 1982, when the congregation became too large for the space.
The church was deconsecrated and still stands on Church Road near the intersection of Route 28. The bell from the tower was moved about two miles to the church's current location, at 304 E. Church Rd.
Today, Sterling draws 450 people, on average, to Sunday services, more than double that of 12 years ago.
"Our challenge as we look toward the future is how to continue our beehive of activity while better responding to the changes around us and meeting the ministry needs of the people in our community," said Duncan, whose church has developed a new motto, "A Rich Heritage, a Bright Future."
"The real beauty of this church is its people and the love and spirit that bring them together," Duncan said. "I envision a church on fire, not just looking backward, but looking forward to meet the challenges of the next 130 years."
Anniversary events include:
* On Sept. 23 at noon, the Church Birthday Bash, an old-fashioned birthday party, will include homemade ice cream, a baby photo contest, cake decorating and traditional games.
* On Oct. 2, Heritage Sunday will be the theme, with a homecoming for the church's former pastors who will join friends, old and new, for a catered dinner at Patton Hall in the Sterling volunteer fire department building.
Information for these events is available on the church's Web site (www.sterlingumc.org) or by calling the church office at 703-430-6455.