Twenty Five Years of Grace

Up until the time of our 25th anniversary celebration, we will reminisce about the history of Grace Presbyterian Church. These musings are intended to give our congregation an opportunity to take a look back and share what it felt like to be a part of the wonderful thing God started in South Arlington in 1985.

We would love for you to share your memories! Please send your thoughts to Linda Black (lblack@wans.net) or to Becky Couch (becky.couch@tx.rr.com). If you have any pictures from those early days we would love to borrow them for the newsletter/website.

March 2010 – Chip Black
April 2010 – Becky Couch
May 2010 – Becky Couch
June 2010 – Betty Sicks
July 2010 – Becky Couch

Chip Black

In 1985, Linda and I had been married four years and were members of First Presbyterian Church in Arlington. In our young couples class we started hearing about a new church being planned in south Arlington and thought that it might be an interesting adventure to look into. The project had a really neat name “New Presbyterian Church in South Arlington.” There was no church, no organ, no pews, no hymnals — just a vision of what we could become as a congregation.

As we approach the season of Easter, it is fun to think back to the first worship service which was held on Maundy Thursday that year. It was quickly followed by the first Lord’s Day service on April 21, 1985. Less than a year later, a large number of us loaded into a bus and cars and made the trip to the Presbytery meeting to be approved and receive our official new name Grace Presbyterian Church of Arlington. It was March 15, 1986 and we had 105 names on the roll. A few weeks later the official organizational worship service was held on April 6, 1986.

It is hard to believe that we have been at this project for 25 years and we will celebrate our Silver Anniversary next year. Congratulations to us all — the lucky ones who are still here after all the years, those who helped lay the foundation and had to move on, and those who have joined over the years finding that Grace was a place where love matters. We are all part of the fabric that makes up the history and future of Grace.

Becky Couch, April 2010

In early January of 1985, Kent and I were blessed to meet with the organizing pastor of the new church development that Grace Presbytery was starting. I remember praying at a Mexican restaurant that afternoon, and being so excited that I could hardly eat my meal. There was so much to do! Where would we have worship? Where would the church office be located? Where would all the people come from? We were immediately drawn to John Poling and his delightful family. What a passion they had for beginning a new church in Arlington! In February we held our first organizational meeting. We met in homes of prospective members back then, and over the next six weeks it seemed that each time we met the number of people grew!

By April 4, 1985 we were ready to have our first worship service. It was Maundy Thursday and we shared communion in the Poling’s home. Over the next few weeks plans were completed to begin meeting on Sunday mornings at Wood Elementary School. We calculated the number of people who would possibly attend, and on April 21, 1985 we held our first worship service at Wood. We squeezed onto the stage that morning, but we underestimated what God would do! Each Sunday from that day forward, we used the cafeteria area for worship to accommodate our growing family. We needed plenty of room to grow!

We were like a colony of ants each week as we arrived at Wood Elementary! Every person had a task they were responsible for – we had to move all the lunch tables and set up chairs. We had to move the school piano into place for singing. We set up the communion table and a podium each week. We became proficient at unloading all the necessary things from our cars that we brought for worship – name tags, bulletins, flowers, hymnals, children’s worship folders, even a coffee pot – and after worship we loaded everything back into our cars and put the lunch tables back into place!

What would be next for this fledgling congregation? A nursery for all the toddlers? Sunday School classes? A church office? And what about that property the Presbytery owned on Mansfield Road?

Becky Couch, May 2010

In the beginning …25 Years Ago at Grace

I drove north on Cooper not long ago and as I passed the Kroger at the corner of Green Oaks and Cooper, I glanced to my right and was reminded of our original church office. Rev. John Poling set up an office in his home when his family moved to Arlington. One of his first tasks was to find space that would accommodate evening meetings and allow for regular office hours without having to operate the church out of his home. The initial plan was to put a temporary building on our property on Mansfield Road. But meeting all the requirements by the City of Arlington kept that idea from developing. At the suggestion of the newly-formed Committee for Site and Building Planning, it was decided that the church would office at the Wimbledon Court Apartments. (Oh, yes … only a few months old and we already had a committee with three knowledgeable real estate folks hard at work.) We leased a ground floor apartment very close to the front of the complex, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The apartment had everything we needed including a fireplace (we dreamed of cozy meetings), a kitchen and, best of all, free use of the apartment’s community room and pool! John’s office was set up in the larger bedroom and the host of volunteer secretaries operated out of the smaller bedroom. Of course, it took no time at all for desks and chairs, couches and tables to be donated. And what is it about pastors and their books? John’s books overflowed the shelves that lined the “office,” and the tub in the larger bathroom was filled with four-foot-high stacks of books too! It amazes me, as I look back on this time, that the apartment management was not bothered by the fact that dozens of people came and went from that apartment on a daily basis and at all hours of the day and night. Everyone had a key! God was certainly watching over us during that time of growth. There were exciting developments every week … and joyful volunteers for every task. We were beginning to grow into a caring fellowship with a common goal of encountering Christ and responding to God’s claim on our lives!

Betty Sicks – June 2010

IN THE BEGINNING … A Creation Story

Once upon a time, a quarter century ago, Arlington was among the fastest-growing communities in the country. Signs promoting churches-to-be sprouted on vacant lots. With ecumenical spirit, Grace Presbytery had joined United Methodists in a bi-denominational new congregation, St. Barnabas, on Pleasant Ridge Road, by supplying a Presbyterian associate pastor. The “flipped” version, with a PCUSA head-of-staff and Methodist associate pastor, was now anticipated.

Accordingly, Associate Presbyter Billy Newton recruited a South Arlington New Church Development Task Force. The cast of players included: the Rev. Jim Sheppard (Church Development member); Marjorie Santori (Trinity PC, Mansfield); the Rev. Alan Farquhar (Westminster PC); and Betty Sicks (First Church). Never could I have imagined, as I walked nervously into its kick-off meeting in Alan’s office, that I was stepping into a quarter-century relationship with Grace Presbyterian! Our job description? Cooperate with the Methodists; secure funding; serve as Pastor Nominating Committee; locate meeting place; resource organizing pastor and steering committee as potential members began worship, program, and fellowship; prepare for Presbytery to constitute the church and install first pastor and session.

Standing beside Old Mansfield Highway, gazing at a fenced field with an attractive cluster of trees – and grazing cattle – we were told, “Here is the site of the future church.” Several months later, I participated in the ground-breaking ceremony — minus the cows and bull! (After some meetings with Methodist hierarchy, they claimed that this location was too near the Church of the Covenant, thus withdrawing from the partnership.)

Imagine my surprise when I was elected moderator at the initial New Church Development Task Force meeting! Subsequently, my mailbox nearly exploded with Pastor Information Forms. I spent hours copying and mailing PIFs to the task force (remember, these were years before e-mail). Committee on Ministry representatives who resourced the pastor search process were Joyce Williams and Ann Jacob. After interviewing several well-qualified candidates, the task force chose the Rev. John Poling, who was “down the road” at FPC, Duncanville.

The Spirit continued to move. The Rev. Ben McAnally succeeded Billy Newton. A General Assembly/Synod of the Sun grant, plus $10,000 from FPC, enabled pastor and program to get underway. Since John and Jackie Poling’s younger daughter and my son both attended FPC preschool, we interacted frequently. Marjorie Santori and I accompanied John in searching for a temporary building, then apartment office, and a worship location. The task force asked me to represent them at steering committee meetings. What a pleasure it was to get to know Becky and Kent Couch and to work with the other charter members!

I was so excited to participate in the first Sunday worship service at Wood Elementary and serve on Grace Presbytery’s Commission to organize the church and install the pastor and session! Choosing a name and planning for a building were significant milestones for the new congregation. Although our paths parted, Tom and I visited Grace periodically, sometimes at anniversary and installation celebrations. I delivered the Charge to the Pastor, as part of Randy Branson’s Installation Commission. In a singular way, Grace PC was always a part of me ,and part of me was in this church, so returning to Grace was coming home.

We speak of “the creative process.” Creation is not a one-time event, but rather, it entails on-going activity, whether with God’s world or within the Body of Christ. Our denomination is not only “Reformed,” but always reforming. And so it is with the creation story of Grace Presbyterian Church. As we move forward into God’s future, rejoicing in God’s grace, let us “praise with elation, praise every morning, God’s re-creation of the New Day!”

Becky Couch – July 2010

Watching the nursery get a facelift brought back memories of the way things were 25 years ago in the church “nursery.” I use the term “nurs­ery” loosely! In the beginning we had just a few toddlers and we did not require much “space.”

Rather than asking the school district to open a classroom (for which we would be charged), we improvised and set up our nursery in a small area at the rear of Wood Elementary that served as an entryway with doors on either end. The restrooms were close by and could be used without disturbing worship (at least that was the idea). There weren’t even any chairs!

Someone was assigned to bring in toys each week and we all volunteered to share our time if our children were not sitting with us in worship. It wasn’t long before Sherry Coffman’s mother volunteered to be our of­ficial child care person! What a blessing she was and the children loved her! She was a grandmother who knew just how to keep the children busy and quiet. We had no child protection policy back then! We just trusted Dorothy to love our babies and let us know if she needed help with one of them.

We were all young and excited to be working to get Grace Presbyterian Church off the ground. We never dreamed that someday we would have a great nursery with rockers and cribs and everything a child could need!