On behalf of the parish I wish to thank Wallace Andrews, parish historian, for his history of the parish. As you read it, please recognize in its pages the entire biblical story of God’s faithful love for his people. Our short history, dating from 1925, is filled with vision and hope, sin and loss, redemption and grace. This snapshot of God’s people in a particular place and time is universal in implication because God chooses to act in particular ways in the lives of ordinary men and women just like you and me. This is the story of a faithful remnant standing fast when the world’s wisdom counseled admitting defeat and the subsequent ministry which has unfolded.
This is the story of hope triumphant over despair, perseverance negating difficulty, the power of God made manifest in bricks and mortar. It is the challenge of the truth that those to whom much has been given, much is expected. May we under the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit give witness to the saving work of God in our lives, in the life of our parish, and in the life of the world.
- Andrew T. P Merrow, Rector
Founding of St. Mary’s
Through the years
The Early Years
The Peak Years
The Troubled Years
Years of Rejuvenation
John George Sadtler (1926-35)
Peyton R. Williams (1936-41)
George F. Tittmann (1942-56)
John Bartel Reinheimer (1957-68)
Paul A. Bankston (1969-71)
Kenneth C. Eade (1972-83)
Andrew T. P. Merrow (1985-present)
FOUNDING OF ST. MARY'S
No figure was more instrumental in founding St. Mary’s Church than the Rev. John George Sadtler, who, in 1924, became rector of Langley Parish and its parish church, St. John’s, McLean. At that time Langley Parish included parts of both Fairfax and Arlington Counties, and so Fr. Sadtler also ministered part time to the Epiphany Mission Church in Cherrydale, Arlington. Not long after his appointment, he became interested in establishing a new mission church in the rapidly growing section of Arlington near the Washington Golf and Country Club.
After canvassing the neighborhood in the summer of 1925, Fr. Sadtler proposed to the St. John’s vestry that steps be taken to build a church there. The vestry concurred and appointed a committee to implement the proposal.
Admiral and Mrs. Presley M. Rixey, who lived in the mansion that is now the core of Marymount University’s central building, became very interested in the church project. They had decided to reserve part of their land as a site for a church and offered the gift of that land, located at Rixey Station, to the building committee. By the end of July, the committee had accepted the gift, approved a preliminary design for the building drawn up by architect W. H. Irwin Fleming, and come up with a plan for raising money.
Co-Adjutor of Virginia, the Rt. Rev. Henry St. George Tucker, shovel in hand, for the groundbreaking ceremony on June 1926. Looking on is the rector of St. John McLean, the Rev. John G. Sadtler.
The building committee elected Adm. Rixey, who served as Surgeon General of the U.S. Navy, an honorary member and asked him and Mrs. Rixey to select the name of the church. They settled on Church of Our Mothers, but Fr. Sadtler pointed out that Episcopal churches were generally named for a saint or Biblical character and suggested St. Mary’s. The Rixeys and the committee agreed upon St. Mary’s — The Church of Our Mothers as the compromise. The Rixeys also offered to match money raised within the parish for the building fund, up to a specified amount.
Bishop William Cabell Brown relieved Fr. Sadtler of his ministry at the Epiphany Mission Church so that he could devote more time to the new mission church. Fr. Sadtler secured permission from Arlington County school authorities to hold church services in the nearby unoccupied Carne School Building — at the site of what is now St. Mark’s United Methodist Church. The first divine service was held at the school on February 4, 1926.
Fund raising efforts were so successful that ground was broken for the church building on June 5, 1926. The Rt. Rev. Henry St. George Tucker, Bishop Coadjutor of Virginia, officiated at the ceremony, assisted by the Rev. John G. Sadtler. Despite inclement weather, more than 100 people attended.
The laying of the cornerstone took place on August 25, 1926. Bishop William Cabell Brown officiated, assisted by the Rev. Sadtler. The Masons also took part, using the trowel and gavel used by George Washington in laying the cornerstone of the Capitol in 1793.
ARRIVAL / DEPARTURE YEAR(S)
John George Sadtler
Peyton R. Williams
George F. Tittmann
John Bartel Reinheimer
Paul A. Bankston
Kenneth C. Eade
Andrew T.P Merrow
COMMUNICANTS IN GOOD STANDING
CHURCH SCHOOL (GRADES 1-9)
**** As of Dec. 31, 2011, church school ran through 5th grade
THROUGH THE YEARS
St. Mary’s was established as a mission church in February 1926. The first service in the new church was held on Passion Sunday in 1927. The congregation moved from mission to parish status in 1941. The first major enlargement of the church building was completed in 1952.
In the 1960’s the church expanded across Glebe Road and ran a day school called St. Mary’s Day School (later renamed the Episcopal Academy). In 1981, part of the school land was sold to pay off parish debts. The school site is now occupied by the Rixey View townhouses and St. Mary’s parking lot. The generous bequest of John and Olive Paca began a capital campaign completed in 1996 to renovate and build to accommodate St. Mary’s growth and new ministries.
But in the early years, the church found itself in financial difficulties when its major benefactor, Adm. Rixey, died in 1928. And throughout the Great Depression, St. Mary’s struggled to meet its financial obligations. The Rev. John George Sadtler retired on September 15, 1935, largely because of the church’s financial situation.
The Rev. Peyton R. Williams accepted the joint rectorship of St. John’s and St. Mary’s Churches and was welcomed to St. Mary’s on September 6, 1936. During his relatively brief tenure (lasting until 1941), the number of baptized members had more than doubled, increasing from 85 to 197. The number of children in church school had jumped from 90 to 175.
The Rev. George F. Tittmann began his rectorship at St. Mary’s Church on April 19, 1942, helping to usher in peak years for St. Mary’s.
During the rectorship of Tittmann, which included a three-year stint as a Navy chaplain during World War II, St. Mary’s had grown phenomenally. By the time he resigned in 1956, the number of baptized members increased from about 200 to 1,680, the number of communicants in good standing from about 200 to 893, and the number of children in church school from 175 to 452.
The Rev. John Bartel Reinheimer was instituted as rector of St. Mary’s by the Bishop of Virginia at a special service on January 13, 1957.
St. Mary’s continued to grow during the late 1950s, but fund raising for the parish house brought to a head a controversy that had developed between the rector and ten of the 17-member vestry. Starting a day school became the focus of a second round of dissent at St. Mary’s, beginning in 1964. The main source of contention had to do with the allocation of the rector’s time between parish and school.
In April 1968, an agreement was worked out between the rector and the vestry for the separation and dissolution of pastoral relations. Fr. Reinheimer would resign as rector of St. Mary’s Parish and would be headmaster of the academy.
The toll of these troubled years was severe. By the end of 1968, St. Mary’s had only 199 members, 103 communicants, and 14 children in church school. The operating budget of the church was in the red.
The Rev. Paul A. Bankston accepted the challenge of guiding St. Mary’s, and the church’s small congregation greeted him in February 1969. His rectorship started out auspiciously, but then, sadly, he became terminally ill and died on August 24, 1971.
The Rev. Kenneth C. Eade became the rector of St. Mary’s on July 1, 1972. Although he had inherited a dispirited church, he had made a good start in the healing process during his rectorship. Reversing the downward spiral, he had increased membership by one third by the time he retired in April 1983.
The Rev. Andrew T. P. Merrow accepted the call to serve St. Mary’s as permanent rector effective March 5, 1985.
In the early years of Fr. Merrow’s rectorship the church was still operating in the red. By 1991 he had nearly doubled the number of members and communicants, and for the first time in recent history St. Mary’s was operating in the black.
Under the strong and imaginative leadership of the Fr. Merrow, St. Mary’s has made great strides during the church’s years of rejuvenation. It has experienced rapid growth and has a large number of active and devoted parishioners.
Baptismal font circa. 1957.
The first service in the new church building was held on Passion Sunday, April 3, 1927. The building was modified English Gothic in design, with distinctive rough stone facing and a bell tower. The main entrance at the north end of the building faced the intersection of Glebe Road and the Washington and Old Dominion Railway.
On Easter Monday, April 18, five men were elected to the first vestry; Dr. Edward M. Blackwell, Mr. John L. Keddy, Mr. Benjamin L. Jacobs, Mr. T. Turner Smith and Mr. Glegge Thomas. At the first meeting. Dr. Blackwell was elected senior warden, an office that he went on to hold for 25 years.
In the early years there were not many Episcopalians in the vicinity of St. Mary’s, and people of all denominations were invited to participate in worship there. Many non-Episcopalians who did so ended up adopting St. Mary’s as their community church.
The church found itself in financial difficulties in 1928 when its major benefactor, Adm. Rixey, died. The building committee had incurred a larger loan for building construction than originally intended because Adm. Rixey had agreed to endorse a large part of the loan.
Although he left a legacy to the church to pay off the loan, the estate, when settled, was insufficient to honor the bequest. So throughout the Great Depression, St. Mary’s struggled to meet its financial obligations.
Fortunately, the women of St. Mary’s Guild did an outstanding job of raising money. Their largest annual fund-raising event was a card party held at the Washington Golf and Country Club each October.
In addition, the guild and individual circles within the guild gave smaller card parties, teas and dinners, and held food sales. The annual proceeds ranged from $600 to $1,000 – significant amounts during the Depression.
THE EARLY YEARS
Rixey trolley station cira., 1926-30 with St. Mary’s in the background.
Muriel Catherine Phelan and Theodore Clyde Osterhaus, during the first wedding at St. Mary’s on June 3, 1931.
The Rev. John G. Sadtler retired on September 15, 1935, largely because of the church’s financial situation. The Diocesan Missionary Society contributed to Fr. Sadtler’s stipend, but a society regulation required that such aid be withdrawn when a clergyman reached retirement age.
The vestries of St. John’s and St. Mary’s Churches concluded that, even with their combined efforts, the two churches could not undertake any additional obligations to make up the shortfall in the rector’s stipend.
The Rev. Peyton R. Williams accepted the joint rectorship of St. John’s and St. Mary’s Churches and was welcomed to St. Mary’s on September 6, 1936. A young man from a large Episcopalian family in Richmond, Virginia, he was like Fr. Sadtler low church and accepted St. Mary’s Mission Church as a community church. During his relatively brief tenure (lasting until 1941), he accomplished a great deal for St. Mary’s.
St. Mary’s Guild and a small chapter of the Woman’s Auxiliary of the Episcopal Church were both listed as active organizations at the beginning of Fr. Williams’s rectorship. Over time he nudged the guild toward having more educational and outreach activities and fewer fund-raising social events. He wanted St. Mary’s to support itself through popular subscription and pledges. He urged the guild members to familiarize themselves with the organization and goals of the woman’s auxiliary — particularly its missisonary activities. In 1939 the two women’s organizations merged under the name of St. Mary’s Guild.
By 1941 the guild had met most of the standards required for membership in the national organization — the Woman’s Auxiliary of the Episcopal Church. Other active church organizations during this period were the altar guild, the choir, a young people’s society, and a men’s club. Under Fr. Williams’s leadership the financial situation gradually improved.
By late 1939 the vestry resolved that “because of the growth of St. Mary’s and raising of a sufficient budget, it is desirable that St. Mary’s become a separate Parish with a full time rector and that the Senior Warden is authorized to appoint a committee to consider what steps should be taken to this end.”
At its 145th annual meeting, in May 1940, the Council of the Diocese of Virginia granted St. Mary’s petition to become the parish church of a new parish to be known as St. Mary’s Parish. It was not until early 1941, however, that Bishop Goodwin authorized Fr. Williams to become the full-time rector of St. Mary’s Church and the newly ordained Fr. Paschal D. Fowlkes to become rector of St. John’s Church. Around the same time, the vestry appointed a committee to commission a stained-glass window in memory of Admiral and Mrs. Rixey. The hand-blown stained glass was designed and executed by Henry Lee Willet, and the cypress frame was designed by John W. Stenhouse. The window was installed in the chancel (south) wall and was dedicated on July 7, 1940. Efforts to raise money for a pipe organ also got underway.
Fr. Williams announced to the vestry in May 1941 that he had accepted a call to Christ Church, Georgetown, D.C., effective September 1, 1941. The number of baptized members had more than doubled during his rectorship, increasing from 85 to 197. The number of children in church school had jumped from 90 to 175.
THE PEAK YEARS
The Rev. George F. Tittmann began his rectorship at St. Mary’s Church on April 19, 1942. With the nation preparing for war, Washington, D.C., was a boom town, and the influx of service personnel and civilian government workers spilled over into northern Virginia.
Fr. Tittmann, a graduate of Harvard College and the Virginia Theological Seminary, was a dynamic individual and liberal in his views. With his charismatic personality, he quickly drew young people to St. Mary’s. During his first year, the number of baptized members increased from 197 to more than 750. The number of families grew from about 200 to 263 and, of particular interest, the number of singles grew from about 21 to 81.
Fr. Tittmann organized a Cub Pack of the Boy Scouts and announced in December that 50 boys had joined. By March 1943, a Boy Scout Troop had also been organized and a scoutmaster selected. Girl Scouts had been meeting in the parish hall since October 1939.
In addition to their regular scout activities, the girls joined in the war effort by folding bandages, making sandbags, and collecting items, such as soap and medicine droppers, for the Red Cross.
St. Mary’s Red Cross Unit was very active. Many women of the community were listed as occasional workers. An average of 25 women attended meetings held twice a week. In 1943 nearly 800 garments were made up in the sewing room, and the surgical dressing unit turned out about 16,000 dressings.
A four rank “unit” pipe organ, which had been ordered from the Moller Organ Co. between the rectorships of Fr. Williams and Fr. Tittmann, was installed in the former sacristy in October 1942.
In February 1943 Fr. Tittmann informed the vestry that he had decided to enter the Navy as a chaplain and, therefore, was tendering his resignation, to become effective the second Sunday after Easter. The vestry, however, rejected his resignation and granted him a leave of absence.
Dr. Robert 0. Kevin, professor of Old Testament at the Virginia Theological seminary, accepted the position as priest-in-charge during Fr. Tittmann’s absence. Later, Mr. Arthur Geeson, a seminary student, served as parish assistant to Dr. Kevin.
St. Mary’s Guild was renamed St. Mary’s Auxiliary Guild in 1943 and became affiliated with the Woman’s Auxiliary of the Episcopal Church. It had a membership of 100 women. One of the chief functions of the organization was packing boxes (mostly used clothing) for the mountain missions. Members also participated in war-bond drives.
Some 348 children were registered in the church school in 1945, but classroom facilities could accommodate fewer than one-third that number. All kinds of temporary expedients were adopted to provide Christian education and basic worship experience to the children: classes were scheduled in shifts, with junior classes meeting in the nave and primary classes scattered among the few classrooms, the kitchen, the stage, the vestry room, and the choir room.
A building committee was appointed to find solutions to the church school space problem. It considered two possible courses: remodeling and expanding the existing church building or purchasing land for a new school building. Both options were left open, but in 1944 the vestry took advantage of an opportunity to buy the 2 1/8-acre Robinson tract on the west side of Glebe Road at its intersection with Old Dominion Drive.
The Rev. George Tittmann returned from active duty as a Navy chaplain in January 1946, having served on a Navy attack transport in the Pacific. He and 88 other men and women from St. Mary’s had answered the call to the colors.
In June 1947 St. Mary’s purchased a residence at 2247 Upton Street as a rectory for Fr. Tittmann, his wife, and three children.
For a brief period, St. Mary’s participated in a series of religious broadcasts on Arlington’s Radio Station, WARL. Proposed by the Arlington Ministerial Union, the series included a church service broadcast each Sunday and a 15-minute program broadcast daily. The broadcasts were divided among Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish faiths. St. Mary’s participated in the daily programs only.
The vestry initiated plans in 1947 to pay off the mortgage on the church building. Services on December 7 included the burning of the mortgage on the church steps and the Form of Consecration of a Church led by the Rt. Rev. Frederick Dean Goodwin, Bishop of Virginia. The Rev. John G. Sadtler, the first rector of St. Mary’s, also participated. Following the service, a reception was held for Dr. E. M. Blackwell to honor his 20 years as St. Mary’s senior warden and almost as many (1926-44) as its Sunday school superintendent. His contributions to the church were legion.
The Rev. George F. Tittmann.
St. Mary’s joined the Arlington Council of Churches in 1948. Two Arlington churches, Epiphany and Grace Churches, merged in 1950 to form St. Andrew’s Church. At that time, a plan proposed by the Bishop of the Diocese to create Arlington Parish was approved. In 1951 St. Mary’s congregation voted to dissolve St. Mary’s Parish and become part of Arlington Parish, which included all of the other Episcopal churches in Arlington County.
In 1950 the congregation approved in principle a proposed enlargement of the church building. Plans went ahead, and the building program, which nearly doubled the church in size, was completed in 1952. The enlarged building was dedicated on October 19, 1952.
As part of the building project, the vestry contracted with the Newcomer Organ Co. to provide a rebuilt console for the organ and to enlarge the instrument by three stops (Gamba, Celeste, and Pedal Bourdon). The organ was then moved and reinstalled in a new choir loft at the rear of the nave.
The Rev. George F. Tittmann and the St. Mary’s choir with the Rixey Memorial Window in the background.
Other changes in the interior design included relocating the Rixey Memorial Window to the east wall of the narthex; installing a free-standing high altar with communion rails behind and on either side; suspending a gilded fleury cross above the altar; installing a wrought iron pulpit and lectern at the front of the chancel; and installing a wood-and-copper baptismal font in the center of the narthex. These changes in interior design were carried out under the direction of Canon Edward N. West of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City. Canon West was an authority on church design.
The church continued to grow throughout the early 1950s. The vestry authorized a call to the Rev. Guy Hill in 1953 to become associate rector of St. Mary’s. Then, in 1955, the vestry approved adding a director of religious education to the staff.
In 1954 St. Mary’s hosted the 159th Annual Council Meeting of the Diocese of Virginia. Fr. Tittmann arranged an outstanding program. About 4,000 people attended the opening service, which was held in the gymnasium of the Washington-Lee High School. More than 500 clergy and choir members were in the procession and the Rt. Rev. Henry Knox Sherill, presiding bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, gave the opening address. Both Bishop Goodwin and Suffragan Bishop Gibson of The Diocese of Virginia participated in the service, and the Rev. Edward L. Merrow, rector of Grace Church, Alexandria, served as master of ceremonies. All events other than the opening service were held at St. Mary’s Church.
Fr. Tittmann tendered his resignation to the vestry in June 1956, to become effective on September 1. During the rectorship of this remarkable man St. Mary’s had grown phenomenally. The number of baptized members increased from about 200 to 1,680, the number of communicants in good standing from about 200 to 893, and the number of children in church school from 175 to 452.
The Rev. John Bartel Reinheimer was instituted as rector of St. Mary’s by the Bishop of Virginia at a special service on January 13, 1957. Fr. Reinheimer had received a B.S. degree from Trinity College in Connecticut, a B.D. degree from Episcopal Theological School in Massachusetts, an M.A. degree from Northwestern University, and a second M.A. degree from Georgetown University.
In 1956 the congregation approved the construction of a new rectory. Completion of the residence at 4540 North 41st Street coincided closely with the arrival of Fr. Reinheiroer and his family in January 1957.
Fr. Reinheimer was particularly interested in education and social issues. He felt strongly that Christians had a role to play within the community as well as the parish.
The vestry accepted, with regret, the resignation of the associate rector, Guy Hill, in September 1957. The Rev. Charles Pickett, Jr., was called in August 1958 to serve as assistant rector for a period of one year. Fr. Pickett submitted his resignation in May 1959, and the Rev. Edmund Stevens, who had served as supply preacher at St. Mary’s, was called as assistant rector in March 1960.
Fr. Stevens was very interested in church drama as a visual means of religious education and worship. Under his direction, the St. Mary’s Players participated in the interdenominational Metropolitan Church Drama Clubs’ cycle of Lenten Chancel Dramas in 1960 and 1961. Each of eight parishes produced a play and presented it in its own chancel and in the chancels of the other participating parishes.
Ill health forced Fr. Stevens to withdraw from active work in the parish in 1961. The vestry chose not to hire a new assistant rector at that time.
St. Mary’s continued to grow during the late 1950s, and, again, a lack of space for the growing church school became a chronic problem. In September 1957, Arlington County indicated that it wished to acquire the Robinson lot for the extension of Yorktown Boulevard. The Robinson lot included five parcels of land and St. Mary’s agreed to sell four to the county. The church then purchased the adjacent Smith lot and combined it with the remaining parcel of the Robinson property. Then, in 1959, St. Mary’s acquired the Darden property, which adjoined the Smith lot and extended to the intersection of Glebe Road and 26th Street. That purchase gave St. Mary’s a total of 2.76 acres of land on the west side of Glebe Road.
A large brick house, originally built by Dr. Blackwell as his residence, stood on the Darden property, and a smaller frame house occupied part of the Smith property. Space in those two houses was used for additional classrooms and other activities.
The annual St. Mary’s fair, which was held on the church grounds across Glebe Road, was a big community event in the 1960s. It was held on two consecutive days and was much like an old-fashioned county fair. There were usually about 50 booths, a large dining tent, pony rides, and other offerings. One year 900 dinners were served. It took about 200 people to run the fair, and several thousand people reportedly attended.
A building plans committee was appointed in 1960 to prepare and submit plans for the construction of a building, or buildings, on the newly acquired land. The architectural firm engaged for the project submitted a master plan calling first for construction of a parish house and parking area and then for the construction of a new sanctuary building.
A capital campaign was initiated in May to raise funds for the construction of a parish house. The building would provide seven church school classrooms, an assembly hall and kitchen, offices for the staff, a common room, and a chapel. As of January 9, 1961, $131,776 had been pledged to the building fund.
THE TROUBLED YEARS
The Rev. John Reinheimer, rector at St. Mary’s from 1957-68.
Fund raising for the parish house brought to a head a controversy that had developed between the rector and ten of the 17-member vestry. Fr. Reinheimer stated his views on the problem in a letter to parishioners, dated January 12, 1961. He indicated that ten members of the vestry had refused to pledge to the building fund and were campaigning to defeat the wishes of the congregation to go forward with the building and also to elect seven new vestrymen who were also opposed to the building program. Fr. Reinheimer urged parishioners to attend a parish meeting on January 16 to vote for a motion to proceed with the building and to elect seven new vestrymen who favored going forward.
Earlier, in the January Messenger, Fr. Reinheimer had explained that a battle was going on at St. Mary’s even before his arrival as rector. In his view there was a small but powerful group of conservative parishioners (including, he implied, the 10 vestrymen) who opposed socially prophetic ministry — whether his or that of his predecessor. The group was organized and unchecked in its efforts to obstruct and propagandize.
A written response was prepared and signed by 94 parishioners — many of whom were or had been officers of various organizations of St. Mary’s Church. They indicated that there was no organized opposition group. In their view the principal problem was the rector’s conduct of his interpersonal relationships. They stated that he showed little Christian compassion, conciliation, or forgiveness in those relationships. They were not opposed to the building program, but some had withheld their support as the only effective means of registering a protest. They had individually and separately — but also reluctantly, sadly, and prayerfully — concluded that St. Mary’s could not effectively give Christian ‘ witness under the leadership of their present rector.
A parish meeting was held on January 16 to elect seven new members to the vestry. The vote was very close, and six of the seven candidates favored by the rector were elected.
Members of the protesting group chose to leave St Mary’s Church. After many meetings with the Bishop of Virginia and various diocesan organizations, as well as the Arlington Parish Council, the group was given permission in mid-1961 to form a new mission church, which it named St Peter’s. At the Diocesan Council meeting in February 1963, St. Peter’s was admitted into the diocese as a separate congregation.
The number of baptized members of St. Mary’s had peaked at 1,857 in 1957, and the number of communicants had peaked at 1,141 in 1958. Fr. Reinheimer stated in a letter to the vestry in July 1961 that St. Mary’s had lost 200-250 communicants and was living beyond its income. Nevertheless, the congregation voted to proceed with building the parish house. Construction was completed and the building was turned over to the church in January 1963.
Fr. Reinheimer was keenly interested in starting a day school. The vestry voted in August 1963 to make the parish house available to the rector for that purpose. The school opened with sixth and seventh grades, and one new grade was to be added each year. St. Mary’s Day School, later called the Episcopal Academy, was quite successful. In 1967 a second campus was opened in the education building of the Chesterbrook Methodist Church.
The day school became the focus of a second round of dissent at St. Mary’s, beginning in 1964. Other factors were also involved, such as a controversy over reinstituting Morning Prayer, but the main source of contention had to do with the allocation of the rector’s time between parish and school. Some on the vestry felt that the rector was devoting too much time to the school and too little to his pastoral duties. Some felt that the rector should serve only as chaplain of the school rather than as headmaster. The rector felt that the church should employ an assistant rector to handle many of the pastoral duties. These conflicting views led, in turn, to the question of the authority of the vestry versus that of the rector.
In May 1964 the vestry adopted a resolution that “it is the opinion of the Vestry that St. Mary’s Parish will strongly encourage both the growth of the Church and the growth of the School as a separate enterprise. To this end, the Vestry now authorizes its Rector to participate as Chaplain in the school so as to provide religious services and religious education.” The vestry defeated a motion that “a qualified Assistant Rector be engaged not later than September 1 to work in the parish exclusive of the parish school.”
The rector called a special follow-up meeting of the vestry in May. The meeting was long and, at times, heated. It did not, however, resolve the differences between rector and vestry with regard to the rector’s role at the school or to the desirability of hiring an assistant rector. A special parish meeting was called in June by a a group of concerned parishioners. Afterwards, the rector wrote in the Messenger that “the congregation expressed to the Vestry its feeling that an assistant minister be engaged at once. If the Vestry heeds the wishes of the majority of parishioners, and at its next meeting on Monday, June 15, sees fit to reverse its former stand against an assistant—the whole long delayed program for growth and development for the future can get underway.”
At its June 15 meeting, the vestry held to its position. Responding, the rector reported in the July 12 Messenger that “the School is being set up as a separate corporation. This means the Vestry will no longer be the corporate body responsible legally or otherwise.”
Conflict between rector and vestry lasted for four more years, during which time several vestrymen and trustees resigned and many parishioners left St. Mary’s. Finally, in April 1968, an agreement was worked out between the rector and the vestry for the separation and dissolution of pastoral relations. Fr. Reinheimer would resign as rector of St. Mary’s Parish, and the parish would lease the parish house to the Episcopal Academy for one year with an option for a subsequent year. Fr. Reinheimer would be headmaster of the academy.
The toll of these troubled years was severe. By the end of 1968, St. Mary’s had only 199 members, 103 communicants, and 14 children in church school. The operating budget of the church was in the red.
One bright spot in the last year of Fr. Reinheimer’s rectorship was the election of the first woman to St. Mary’s vestry: Doris Murphy.
YEARS OF REJUVENATION
It was with high hopes that St. Mary’s called the Rev. Paul A. Bankston as its new rector. Prior to the call. Bishop Gibson had written a letter to Fr. Bankston spelling out the situation at St. Mary’s.
…St. Mary’s is attempting a come-back from its unhappy failure by experimenting for three years on borrowed money. They are really in no position of communicant strength or pledge operating income to call any man to a full-time position. Therefore, the normal, and canonical expectation of life tenure is simply not in the picture. The experiment can fail. At the end of three years St. Mary’s may have to close its doors. We must recognize that, regardless of the talent and hard work of a new full-time clergyman, past history, bad reputation and bitter feelings may make a viable come-back impossible. Please understand me. I do not expect this unhappy end or I would not agree to the experiment. There is a real challenging opportunity and there is plenty of room in Arlington for a full St. Mary’s without detracting from the other Episcopal Churches. I want someone of your abilities to accept this challenge, and I shall support him in every possible way…
The Rev. Bankston accepted the challenge, and St. Mary’s small congregation greeted him in February 1969. His rectorship started out auspiciously, but then, sadly, he became terminally ill and died on August 24, 1971.
The Rev. Frederick Wandall, a priest on the faculty of St. Stephen’s School, who had been assisting St. Mary’s during the rector’s illness, was appointed rector pro tempore until a new rector could be called.
Membership had increased slightly, but the financial situation had not greatly improved. The lease with the Episcopal Academy was not renewed in 1970, and the academy ceased to exist. The parish house was, instead, leased to a music school.
St. Mary’s chancel during the early stages of remodeling.
The Rev. Kenneth C. Eade, rector St. Mary’s 1972-83.
The Rev. Kenneth C. Eade became the rector of St. Mary’s on July 1, 1972. Fr. Eade had been rector of St. Luke’s Parish, La Union, New Mexico.
St. Mary’s celebrated two 50th anniversaries: one in 1976 to commemorate the first service held in the Carne School in 1926; and the other in 1977 to mark the first service held in the original church building in 1927. A freedom memorial fund drive was launched in 1976 to pay off the mortgage on the main church building. Sixty-five parishioners raised $50,000 for the fund, demonstrating a strong devotion to St. Mary’s. The mortgage was burned at the second 50th anniversary celebration.
Throughout the 1970s St. Mary’s music program flourished under the direction of organist/choirmasters David Ritchie (1971-1972) and Fr. Thomas Friedkin (1972-1980). Notably, Fr. Friedkin initiated a series of Bach cantatas by the choirs of St. Mary’s in cooperation with other Episcopal church choirs of Arlington and a number of professional instrumentalists. The first presentation was so successful that Fr. Friedkin received a request from a Washington Radio Station to record the next cantata for broadcast throughout the area.
The vestry accepted Fr. F. Hugh Evan’s offer in 1978 to serve St. Mary’s as assistant to the rector. He had retired that year as priest-in-charge of the Church of Our Savior in Oatlands, Va., and he served at St. Mary’s until June 1984.
The Women of St. Mary’s, formerly St. Mary’s Auxiliary Guild, had disbanded in 1971. (It had never really recovered from the troubled years.) But the arts and crafts guild, under the leadership of Lois Kirchner, continued to thrive. A wide array of arts and crafts were represented in the guild, and between 1976 and 1980 the group raised more than $15,000 at its annual Christmas boutique. The guild made generous gifts to the church, which were much needed in those lean financial years.
In 1979 the General Convention of the Episcopal Church approved the Proposed Book of Common Prayer as the official Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church. The convention authorized the continued use of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, with certain recommendations and subject to guidelines by each diocese.
Most of St. Mary’s parishioners were traditionalists in their preference for the traditional liturgy and the 1928 Prayer Book; they were not, however, inflexible. A small group of conservative parishioners, on the other hand, was strongly opposed to any change in the liturgy. Fr. Eade also opposed the introduction of the 1979 Prayer Book. With the approval of the vestry, he succeeded in obtaining temporary permission from Bishop Hall for St. Mary’s to continue using the 1928 Prayer Book within the bishop’s overall guidelines.
St. Mary’s still had difficulty in meeting its operating budget from year to year. Capt. Robert Minton chaired a property committee in 1980 to assess the feasibility of selling the school property across Glebe Road to pay off parish debts. The committee presented its findings to the congregation, which reluctantly approved the sale.
The property was sold in August 1981. As part of the agreement, St. Mary’s retained permanent use of the land underlying a parking lot of 40 spaces on the property. At settlement the church received a large down payment and a four-year secured note for the balance. After paying off the mortgage on the property and other settlement expenses, the church established St. Mary’s Foundation in January 1982 and endowed it with most of the residual proceeds from the sale of the property. The principal was preserved and the interest made available to the vestry once a year — 40 percent for outreach/charity and the balance for the program and capital expenses. Nevertheless, the interest income from the foundation could not cover the shortfall in the annual operating budgets.
Fr. Eade retired in April 1983. Although he had inherited a dispirited church, he had made a good start in the healing process during his rectorship. Reversing the downward spiral, he had increased membership by one third. The congregation was made up primarily of older people. (Many young people with children had transferred to St. Peter’s during the troubled years.) The average age of the congregation, according to one parishioner’s “guesstimate,” was about 60. Age, however, did not impede the congregation’s resolve to keep St. Mary’s doors open whatever the cost.
The Rev. Porter H. Brooks, a retired U.S. Army chaplain, served as interim rector after Fr. Eade’s retirement. During the interim, the vestry petitioned Bishop Hall to continue using the 1928 Prayer Book within the Bishop’s previous guidelines. The bishop denied the petition and stated in a letter to the senior warden that “… It is my godly judgment that the use of the 1928 Prayer Book cease before the arrival of your new rector and that the 1979 Prayer Book be in place by that time and used at all Services …”
The vestry acquiesced and in a letter to members and friends of St. Mary’s presented its policy: “… As Episcopalians, whether confirmed or received into The Episcopal Church, each of us at that confirmation or reception accepted, implicitly, obedience to the doctrines, worship and discipline of the Episcopal Church. As Episcopalians we cannot do otherwise.”
Several parishioners wrote letters to the vestry protesting the decision to implement the bishop’s directive. Some felt so strongly that they chose to leave St. Mary’s Church. The number of pledge units dropped from 90 in 1982 to 76 in 1983, and the amount pledged also fell. By 1986, however, the pledged income surpassed pro-controversy levels considerably.
The Rev. Andrew T. P. Merrow accepted the call to serve St. Mary’s as permanent rector effective March 5, 1985. A graduate of the Virginia Theological Seminary, Fr. Merrow had been the assistant rector of Christ Church, Alexandria, before coming to St. Mary’s. He was a young man, and with his enthusiasm, empathy, and strong leadership skills, he began to attract many new members, particularly young couples with children.
In the early years of Fr. Merrow’s rectorship the church still operated in the red. But by 1991 the number of members and communicants had nearly doubled, and the financial situation turned around. In a memorandum early that year, Fr. Merrow noted that for the first time in recent history St. Mary’s was operating in the black. All the same, capital reserves had been significantly reduced to compensate for operational losses and to fund various much-needed capital improvements. Some additional debt had been undertaken to add a tower to the church to house an elevator for universal access. Plans were underway in 1991 to increase capital reserves, and a planning committee was established to explore the future growth of the parish.
As the number of children in the church school increased, the old problem of space returned. The church no longer had land on the west side of Glebe Road, other than the small parking lot. St. Mary’s seized the opportunity in 1993 to purchase land, with a house, across North 26th Street from the church. At about the same time, the church was notified of a very sizable bequest left by deceased parishioners John and Olive Paca. The bequest included cash, securities, and a house on Williamsburg Boulevard.
The Rev. Andrew T. P. Merrow.
As the need for more space became critical, a capital campaign was initiated in 1995 to raise money to remodel the existing building and to construct a two-story wing on the south, or 26th Street, end of the building. By the end of 1996 the capital campaign committee had raised more than $1.1 million — enough to go ahead with the construction and renovation program. To minimize disruption during the building project, the vestry opted for a 10-month construction schedule, requiring the congregation to vacate the church for that time. Fr. Merrow, assisted by the Rev. Walter Eversley and the Rev. William Stafford, presided over a ground-breaking ceremony on June 29, 1997. Also participating were 5-year-old Delaney Smeage-Butler, representing future congregations, and Ella Lathem, who had been confirmed at St. Mary’s Church in 1928.
St. Mary’s was fortunate in obtaining use of facilities of the former Christ United Methodist Church on Lee Highway during the construction period. The first service at its temporary home was on Sunday, July 6, 1997.
Easter services were held in the renovated St. Mary’s Church in 1998. The renovation included reversing the interior orientation of the nave so that the altar and baptismal font were at the north end and a new organ and choir stalls were at the south end. The undercroft of the building had been further partitioned to include eight classrooms and two nursery/play rooms, but had retained the existing restrooms and mechanical equipment rooms. The ancient heating and cooling systems had been replaced. The new wing housed a chapel/columbarium, a large multipurpose room, and a kitchen on the upper level and six offices and two conference/meeting rooms on the lower floor.
Outreach became a primary focus of St. Mary’s under Fr. Merrow. In fact, the revitalization of the outreach ministry was perhaps the most important development at St. Mary’s during his early rectorship. By the early part of the decade, the vestry designated 25 percent of the annual budget to outreach – 12 percent allocated for the diocesan pledge and 13 percent for other organizations. Some of those early recipients included Samaritan Ministries, the Arlington Community Temporary Shelter, and the Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry. St. Mary’s was also instrumental in Samaritan’s expansion into Northern Virginia in 1995.
Other ministries grew and started. Trained lay Eucharistic ministers introduced a new ministry to St Mary’s in 1993, taking the Holy Eucharist to communicants who were unable to come to regular church services on Sundays. Then, in 1995, members of a new cooking group began a ministry of preparing two home-cooked meals per week for parishioners facing hardships. Several other small groups began activities relating to adult education and fellowship, including discipleship groups, neighborhood groups, and Koinonia dinner groups.
The altar guild undertook a long-term project, starting the previous decade, to make and install needlepoint kneelers for the sanctuary. Dedicated needle-workers, who were members and friends of St. Mary’s, devoted long hours to stitching canvasses that carried words from The Magnificat, the Song of Mary. Mrs. Billie Conkling of Baltimore, Md., designed and painted the canvasses, and Elizabeth Rollings, chair of the Needlework Projects at the Washington Cathedral, supervised the handwork. The beautiful kneelers were dedicated at an Evensong on the first Sunday of Advent in November 1990.
The vestry authorized a change in the schedule of Sunday services in 1995, adding an adult forum and a children’s chapel as part of an expanded Christian education program. The youth group also became more active at that time, and senior high school members participated in mission trips to paint and repair the homes of less fortunate people. They traveled to a different destination each year to work, joining 300 to 400 youths from other churches around the country.
Fr. Merrow also brought a succession of outstanding clergy, organists, and choirmasters to St. Mary’s. Clergy included the Rev. Zachary Fleetwood, the Rev. William Parnell, the Rev. Michael Robinson, and the Rev. John Ohmer. Crafting St. Mary’s music were Barry Baltzley, David Snyder, and Kyle Ritter. The organ had badly deteriorated during the lean years, but repairs were made in 1989 to bring it up to “acceptable” condition until the purchase of a new organ could be funded.
As the turn of the new century approached, St. Mary’s made great strides toward reaching another high and becoming a leader again in the diocese. Fr. Merrow reflected this in his own work outside of St. Mary’s, as he headed several prestigious diocesan committees, including the Standing Committee, the Resolutions Committee, and Examining Chaplains. He also served as dean of Region III of the diocese.
The Rev. Andrew T. P. Merrow talks to parishoners.
Rixey Memorial Window.
In a time when many Episcopal churches have seen their membership shrink, St. Mary’s remains a healthy, vibrant, and growing church community. Its estimated membership continues to grow, surpassing the church’s previous high mark from the 1950s. By the end of 2014, St. Mary’s membership stood at approximately 2,200 members, with almost 200 children registered in the church school and an average attendance of about 500 at the weekly worship services.
This reflects both changing demographics and natural population growth in North Arlington, as well as the church’s steady presence in the community. Even as the tumultuous debate over gay rights has divided many Episcopal congregations, St. Mary’s has stayed focused on welcoming people through worship, liturgy, and service, no matter who they are, an approach that ultimately has served the parish well.
Throughout, St. Mary’s has remained committed to outreach in Arlington and beyond. In addition to maintaining the budgetary standard set in the early 1990s of 25 percent going to outreach, St. Mary’s has played a leadership role in a variety of other ways. In 2008, St. Mary’s co-founded Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement – better known as VOICE – a multi-faith, non-partisan organization dedicated to organizing citizens to bring about social change, such as access to affordable housing, healthcare, and child care, in Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, and Prince William counties. St. Mary’s also partnered with other local churches to raise money for the Culmore clinic, a free health clinic in the Bailey’s Crossroads area, Santa Maria Episcopal, a parish for primarily Latinos on Arlington’s Columbia Pike, and a cathedral in the Diocese of Renk in Sudan.
The church also has continued to be a training ground for new pastors under the guidance of Fr. Merrow. Clergy who were assistant and/or associate rectors included the Revs. Grant Ambrose, John Runkle, Elizabeth Melchionna, Jennifer Strawbridge, Kristen Barkerding Sullivan, Robin Dodge, Tracy Bruce, Anne Turner and Tim Malone.
Click here to learn more about clergy currently assisting the rector; click here to learn about the staff of St. Mary’s.
Well into the 21st century, more than eighty-five years after its first worship service, St. Mary’s continues to thrive in the heart of Arlington.