For Johnny Kurcina Jr., Mark 6:4, “A prophet is without honor only in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his own home,” has special meaning.
“I’m determined to prove that wrong,” said Kurcina, 36.
Amid controversy and court battles between the local Episcopal and Anglican dioceses, Kurcina, a 1993 graduate of James Madison High School, recently started an Anglican church in his native Vienna. He is ministering to a congregation of about 250, and that number continues to grow.
The church is an offshoot of the Anglican half of the Falls Church, which has been embroiled in a legal land battle over church property for several years with its Episcopal cousins.
Eleven local churches broke from the Episcopal Church in early 2007 to join a more conservative Anglican Church under the auspices of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America. The Anglican churches, however, kept the Episcopal church properties.
In January, Fairfax County Circuit Judge Randy Bellows reversed his original 2008 ruling that the breakaway congregations were entitled to the properties.
Kurcina began Christ Church Vienna late last year and continues to be amazed with its success. Services are in the Louise Archer Elementary School cafeteria, where parishioners sit in plastic chairs and the walls are adorned with lunch menus.
“Holding services in a school cafeteria does hold some challenges,” Kurcina said. “We are not allowed to use wine for communion so we use grape juice, and our candles look real but the flame is really a small flickering light bulb because we are not allowed to use real flame candles on school grounds.”
Despite the obstacles, the church continues to draw new parishioners.
“My idea was just to bring Jesus to anyone who would accept him,” Kurcina said. “I thought we would perhaps garner interest from about 50 people, mostly friends, family, neighbors and acquaintances. It has been through the grace of God that we have been able to minister to so many more.”
Growing up in Vienna, Kurcina said, he was a typical teenager. He was active in sports and dreamed about being accepted into a military academy. But then he got involved with a Christian youth group and became aware of a talent he never knew he had.
“I began to see that my faith and love for God began affecting others,” he said. “When I was 16, I would hold Bible study sessions for kids a few years younger than myself, and I took notice that I was actually getting through to them.”
After graduating from the University of Virginia, Kurcina attended a seminary in Massachusetts and eventually moved to Bristol, England, to pursue a doctorate in New Testament studies. While there, he said, he felt a strong urge to return to Vienna.
“My family is strongly rooted here,” he said. “My mother also graduated from Madison in the 1960s, and my father moved here from Pennsylvania around that same time. He opened, and still owns, a business — John Edwards Hair Design — in town.
On any given Sunday, Kurcina’s father, mother and wife can be seen helping out with the services.
“My father works as a greeter as people come in,” Kurcina said. “Sometimes people who don’t know he is my dad come up to me and say, ‘That guy looks just like an older version of you.’ ”
Vienna native Brian Berry, who went to U-Va. with Kurcina and sits on the Christ Church board of directors, attributes the church’s success to the fact that Kurcina and his extended family are so charismatic and entrenched in the community.
“Johnny is the real deal,” he said. “He is not an egghead and doesn’t come across as holier than thou or anything like that. In his spare time, he coaches football, baseball and his love for Vienna shows. People know him and his family, and see him as a regular guy from the neighborhood.”
For now, the school cafeteria works fine for the church but it soon might no longer meet its needs, Kurcina said.
“We won’t stay there long term,” he said. “We are not a static church. We are dynamic ,and we want to grow, bringing Jesus to as many as we can.”
That sentiment has not gone unnoticed within the Anglican Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic.
“This new church is thriving,” Bishop John Guernsey said. “Christ Church Vienna is an excellent example of our diocese’s commitment to spreading the Gospel. The congregation is living proof that you don’t need a steeple to grow in mission, ministry and numbers.”