History of Gainesville Presbyterian Church
It is good to remember what the Lord has done. God is faithful and He instructs His people to remind themselves of this. This is a brief summary of God’s faithfulness to the folks at Gainesville Presbyterian Church since 1979.
In 1979, when folks first began gathering for worship in what would become Gainesville Presbyterian Church, Gainesville, Virginia was where I-66 ended . The most prominent feature on the landscape was Atlas Iron Works (where Atlas Walk now is), where the largest beams of NYC’s World Trade Center were made. A giant automotive junkyard, a few gas stations, and two tiny stores called Phil’s Market and Happy Jack’s Ham House were the only other business establishments in sight.
Seven families began meeting together in a Bible study in 1978. One of the members of the Bible study (the late Jerry Botkin) gently and persuasively steered the group toward the Reformed faith and the PCA. They contacted the local PCA presbytery, which sent out Ron Bossom, pastor of the Harvester PCA in Springfield, VA to begin teaching the Bible Study at the Kines Motel (where Battlefield Baptist is now). The presbytery also put the group in contact with a young pastor named Phil Douglass (associate pastor at Fairlington Presbyterian) who was interested in planting a church in northern Virginia for the PCA. The group trekked out to Fairlington Presbyterian Church to hear him preach and liked what they heard. Soon Phil was called by Delmarva Presbytery to begin a mission church in Gainesville. (Originally they wanted to start the church in Manassas, but there was another PCA church in Manassas at the time – which has since left the PCA – and so the church was started in Gainesville.)
The group began meeting for worship at Gainesville Elementary School on Rt. 55 just outside of Haymarket in the spring of 1979. In May of 1980, Gainesville Presbyterian Church became an official church of the PCA, pastored by Phil Douglass. The church met for 3 years in the school gymnasium under the basketball hoops, with no AC, using the hall as a nursery.
In June of 1980, Jack Lash (a student at Gordon Conwell Seminary) was called to intern for summer, with wife Mary Ann and baby Timmy in tow. When Jack graduated from Seminary in August of 1982 he was then called to return to Gainesville as a full time intern. That fall he was called by the congregation as Associate Pastor and ordained in March 1983.
In the meantime the congregation had begun looking for land, so that the church might have a more permanent location. In the end, they bought their present lot from the late Early Griffith, the man who opened Gainesville Elementary each Sunday, who had heard we were looking for land and offered to sell nine of his eleven acres. The building was designed and constructed with as much in-house help as possible, being finished in August of 1983. In 2000 the congregation worked together to renovate the sanctuary and narthex, and in 2001 the Griffith house itself was purchased from Early’s widow.
While pastoring the church from 1980 through 1985, Phil Douglass’ heart was in church planting right from the beginning. He was instrumental in the planting of many other PCA churches in northern Virginia. In the fall of 1983 Phil began a new church plant in Manassas (formerly Cornerstone PCA, which has now merged and moved and been renamed Spriggs Road PCA). And then in June of 1985 Phil helped begin a church plant in Warrenton (Heritage PCA). In November of 1985 GPC and the two mission churches were under one session (body of elders). At that time the session decided to restructure the churches. Phil would stop being a head pastor and focus on church-planting, Jack would begin to lead the Gainesville congregation, and both Cornerstone and Heritage would become separate PCA churches. In October of 1986 Jack was elected the new senior pastor of Gainesville Presbyterian Church.
Some of our present members who were at GPC back in those Phil Douglass days: the Boltons, the Fitzpatricks, the Hines, the Johnsons, the Lashes, the Steve Lunsfords, the Murphys, the Peaches, the Poes, the Rices, the Singletons, Bob Sowers, the Trudeaus and the Wheatleys.
Since then God has continued to bring us men, women and children who want to worship Him and learn of Him, people dearly loved by the Lord Himself. Each person He has called to be with us has an important role to play. Each has been given a gift the rest of us need.
From the very beginning God’s blessing has rested upon this congregation. There has always been a sense of Christian community and closeness, a desire to put Christ first in everything, a commitment to do everything according to the Bible. There have been sad times and hard times, but very few compared to the pleasant and precious times we have enjoyed as a fellowship of the Lord’s people. We have much to be grateful for. As with all churches, our story is a story of God’s grace more-than-compensating for our sinfulness. He is the One building our church, for ultimately this is His church, not our church. He is building it out of discarded materials, turning the rocks themselves into living stones, which He is fashioning into a beautiful temple where He dwells. It’s Him. It’s not the pastor, it’s not the leaders, it’s not the church. Our story is a story of what He has done. We are so privileged to have been a part of what our great God has been doing here in this corner of His big, beautiful earth.
And yet our story is not over. We pray that God has even greater things in store for us in the future. And yet the sweetest thing of all will be to join with all of those from GPC – past, present, and future – and with all our sister churches to sing praises to our blessed Redeemer in the heavenly places. It is His grace that has led us safe thus far, and His grace will lead us home.