Historic Trinity Lutheran moves services as church starts renovation project

Posted: April 19, 2013

Special to The Winchester Star

This is a rendering of the completed Trinity Lutheran Church in Stephens City, looking from the corner of Main Street and Fairfax Street. Worship services are being held at Jones Chapel, 5485 Mulberry St. Construction is expected to begin in mid-May.
Workers from Staunton Organ Works begin refurbishing the pipe organ at Trinity Lutheran Church in Stephens City.

Stephens City — The congregation of Trinity Lutheran Church recently moved out of the historic church, founded in 1765, as the structure is readied for a yearlong construction and renovation project.

The office and worship services have relocated down the street for the duration of the project to Jones Chapel, part of Jones Funeral Home, 5485 Mulberry St., according to the Rev. Cameron P. Keyser, senior pastor.

The $2 million construction, expected to begin in mid-May, will include the demolition of the existing parish hall and kitchen, built in 1949, and a conference room.

A three-story, 10,500-square foot facility will include new and updated meeting rooms, kitchen, offices, parlor, reception area, nursery and classrooms, he said. The construction, expected to be completed by spring 2014, is being handled by Gregory Construction Co. of Manassas.

Inside the church, the historic sanctuary, built in 1906, will also undergo renovations, including repainting, an expanded chancel, new lighting, and refinishing of the original heart pine flooring, said Keyser.

Separately, the church’s pipe organ is undergoing a $54,000 restoration by Staunton Organ Works.

The reconstruction and renovations were “long overdue,” according to Keyser, who has been at the church since August 2011. Not long after taking over at the helm, he helped put together an 11-member task force that visited almost 20 churches of various denominations to see how they had renovated or reconstructed.

“The chatter became really clear that we needed to do something. As we looked around, we saw that God had given us a wink to see what was possible and to be aware of the limitations too,” he said.

Several years ago, a member of the church died and left land on both sides of Interstate 81 as a bequest, he said. The church sold that property for about $3 million. It is now using about $1.3 million from that bequest to fund the renovations and is raising the remainder through a capital campaign, of which about $520,000 has already been committed, according to Keyser.

“I have never seen a congregation as humbly outwardly committed as this one. I am very impressed with what they are willing to do,” he said.

The church is undergoing a physical change, but it has also experienced a rebirth among its membership, he said. When he first arrived at Trinity, he told the shrinking congregation that “we either need to resurrect the church or I will become their hospice pastor,” he said. “The building needed resurrecting, but so did the congregation.”

Two years ago, it wasn’t unusual to have fewer than 20 people at worship services; today, there are about 95 on any given Sunday, he said.

“Pastor Cam is a real leader for this church, and the congregation listens to him and follows his advice,” according to Carolyn Skaritza, a 10-year member of the church who also serves as media liaison. “It’s like a new congregation, it’s just incredible. There are families and little children here now.”

He said he asked the congregation to be bold and consider coloring outside the box. “These are frugal German Lutherans who don’t like a lot of change, but I encouraged them to think bigger. I was put in the right place at the right time. God did not want this church to die.”

There was some trepidation among members about the temporary move to Jones Funeral Home, said Skaritza. But the chapel there is very comfortable, with a playroom for the children, space for the choir, and space to meet and greet before and after services, she said. “This temporary move gives our church a vision of what we will have when the renovation is complete.”

Moving a church, even for the short term, requires a tremendous amount of planning and work by its members, so everyone wants to ensure that it’s done correctly, said Keyser. “It has been 60 years since we built last time, and we don’t plan on undertaking this again for another 60 years.”

“The members are handling the changes and disruption very well, and they have been remarkably generous with their time as the move has progressed,” Skaritza said. “If there is a need, they are quietly on board.”


Sunday worship service for Trinity Lutheran Church is held at 9:30 a.m. at Jones Chapel, 5485 Mulberry St., Stephens City. For more information call 540-869-4019, email cameronkeyser@gmail.com, or go to worshipattrinity.net.