STEPHENS CITY — For the first time in its 230-year history, Stephens City United Methodist Church has an illuminated belfry.
The glow from the Main Street bell tower can be seen at night from Aylor Road on the east side of Interstate 81 or from the Fairfax Pike (Va. 277) exit overpass looking west. The lights automatically turn on at twilight and turn off at sunrise. Church member Mark Gunderman, who is recording the church’s history, says the bell tower, which illuminates a long stretch of Main Street, is meant to remind all who pass by “that God is alive and present in our community.”
According to Gunderman, the first version of Stephens City United Methodist Church was constructed in 1789 as a log house, a couple of houses down from its current location at 5291 Main St. The log meeting house was used until 1827, when the sanctuary was replaced on the same site with a brick church containing a belfry, a high pulpit and a gallery on three sides, the church website says. That building was torn down in 1882 and replaced by another building with a vestibule and a gallery across the back. The church’s current location was built in 1913.
Until now, the church never had an illuminated belfry. The project to install lights was initiated by church members to honor longtime building superintendent Bobby Cook, who has served the church for more than 33 years. About five years ago, Cook came to church officials and suggested the belfry be illuminated to serve as a beacon. Gunderman explained that when Cook was outside doing church landscaping work, he was often approached by “worried souls who had lost their way and were reaching out, eager to receive knowledge about his church,” which inspired his vision to illuminate the belfry.
Cook’s idea gradually caught on, and the church raised $2,121 for the project. Strasburg-based Good Guys Electrical Service installed the lights, and they were turned on July 8.
“Mr. Cook believes the church’s newly lighted bell tower to be a beacon of hope in a troubled world,” Gunderman said.