Mt. Vernon Baptist Church - Crystal City History

Welcome to Mt. Vernon Baptist Church's History. We hope you appreciate our journey as much as we do.

The need for a Baptist Church

The need for a Baptist Church to serve a growing community in the Highlands/Aurora Hills section of Arlington, Virginia, began when the Baptist Board of Missions and Education asked Dr. George T.W. Waite and the Reverend E.H. Puryear to do a study of the community’s Baptist interests.

The First 15

Reverend Puryear organized a group of 15 persons to begin Baptist meetings and prayer. The first meeting was held on March 17, 1928 in the home of Mr. and Mrs. J. B. Williams. More meetings were regularly held in the homes of other parishioners which resulted in the Baptist Society of Virginia Highlands and Aurora Hills being formed. Mrs. Williams raised cash pledges totaling $500 to begin a church. In September of 1928, a church was formally established with a constitution and by-laws that took on the name “Mt. Vernon Baptist Church.” The church held an election of officers, and the first pastor was Reverend Puryear. Deacons at that time were J.B. Williams and H.P. Timmons. Pastor Puryear served on a part-time basis, but the group was able to meet and conduct Sunday services. With the installation of educator V.F. Gregory, the church started a Sunday school. The first meeting was attended by 36 church members.

23rd St

The Church borrowed $400 from the Potomac Baptist Association of Virginia to buy five lots of property with frontage at 935 south 23rd Street In Arlington, Virginia, the church’s current address. The loan was paid nine years later.

The Basement

At this time, economic conditions during the Great Depression made it difficult for a handful of faithful church workers to consider the construction of a church building. However, with the Potomac Baptist Association as co-sponsor, $3,000 was borrowed from the Alexandria National Bank of Alexandria, Virginia, to begin erection of a church building. The loan was to be for 30 days, but due to the severity of the Great Depression, the loan was extended to five years. There were times when the payments could not be made, yet the bank did not foreclose on the struggling church. The construction of the church building was a brick structure that was erected in an excavated space and was covered with a roof. Essentially, it was a basement. Inside the large space was a centralized wood stove, and at one end of the space there stood a pulpit. The other far end held formerly-used movie theater seats for the congregation to use.

Pastor Pierce

The Reverend Willard R. Pierce became Pastor of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church.

Construction Begins

Just before the $3,000 loan was finally paid, a new construction program was started to complete the erection of the church building.

Construction Completed

The beautiful completed church building of the Mt. Vernon Baptist Church was dedicated on a Sunday afternoon in June 1941 by Dr. Fredrick W. Boatwright, President of the University of Richmond in Richmond, Virginia.

More Land Purchased

Both the adjacent house and lot east of the church building were purchased.

Debt Free

On January 15, 1953, Mt. Vernon Baptist Church’s first pastor, Reverend Puryear, was guest speaker at the burning of the mortgage deed that represented all of the church property, eliminating the debt owed by the church. In spite of the transient nature of the community area, the church and Sunday school had grown to 449 members. The Sunday school had an enrollment of 400 people. The Virginia Highlands/Aurora Hills area of Arlington was having serious growth with the coming of a larger U.S. Government, private sector corporate headquarters and military and civilian personnel. High rise buildings and single family housing were being added to the area. It became necessary for Mt. Vernon to add to its building space to accommodate greater membership and church mission activities. An education building had to be considered. To fund such a grand project, a creative investment and insurance program was conceived. The church established a plan with Houston L. Spivey and Jean A. Roland of the Columbian National Life Insurance Company; Robert M. Roundtree, a loan trustee; and Harry L. Crawford of Washington, D.C., who had campaign managing expertise. This plan allowed any subscriber to purchase shares in the plan at established amounts that gave investors a $1.50 return on every dollar of shares purchased, and also covered them with a life insurance policy whose face value was a much greater amount than the cost of the premiums. This meant a subscriber not only used this plan to secure the future of his or her family, and assured the Insurance Company of additional interested policy holders, but it also provided the resources for the new education building to be built. The plan was conceived to cover subscribers for 35 years, at which time they would receive the maturity benefits of their investment. If they died prior to the completion of the 35-years maturity, the insurance policy kicked in and provided a good return for the individual subscriber’s surviving family.

Urban Development

Bill Godfrey led the leaders of the church to adopt recommendations for long-range planning. These recommendations aided the church through difficult years when the community went through changes of going from a suburban to an urban environment.

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