After years of sharing space for Sunday meetings and mid-week religion classes, singles in the Northern Virginia area just across the river from Washington, D.C., have their own building.
The three-story brick structure, a renovated office complex at 745 23rd Street in Arlington, Va., is in a neighborhood heavily populated with LDS singles, near Crystal City and the Pentagon. Its proximity to a Metro stop a few blocks away also means easier access for members who've previously had to carpool long distances to attend church services and Institute at three other buildings.
"We anticipate that it will become a gathering place for LDS singles in the Northern Virginia area," said William Nixon, president of the Mount Vernon Stake which incorporates the three wards with about 775 members in the new building. "I believe that having a location largely dedicated to single members so close to Washington, D.C., is going to provide a sense of 'home' to these members."
Purchased three years ago, with renovation begun a year ago, the facility known to locals as the "23rd Street Chapel" features a 250-seat chapel on the second floor, brightened by floor-to-ceiling windows.
Although the low ceilings don't allow for a basketball court or stage, there are expansive rooms for the large Relief Society groups and priesthood quorums to meet, as well as bishops' and clerks' offices for the three wards, two of them for young single adult wards (ages18 to 30) and one a mid-singles ward (for those 31 to 55).
LDS Institute classes will also be held in the large rooms in the building, and 2,000 single Latter-day Saints from the greater Washington area are expected to frequent the meeting house for social events.
President Nixon noted that he began the first institute class in the Mount Vernon Stake in the late 1980s with only three students enrolled for credit. The Northern Virginia LDS Institute alone now serves more than 1,000 singles. "I am delighted by the growth and caliber of teaching that distinguishes the program," President Nixon said.
At a well-organized open house May 7, LDS singles in the area as well as many of their non-LDS neighbors toured the building, enjoyed musical performances in the chapel, and visited with volunteers and missionaries at displays about the Church, family history, and emergency preparedness.
Roseanne Freese, who's lived in the neighborhood 11 years, said she's watched the building "with curiosity and anticipation at how it would be transformed," and has appreciated the improved landscaping. "Churches are an anchor in the community," she said, and the renovated building "looks like a place where people dwell, not simply pass through. It's a home."
Mark Cardenas, another neighbor, described the chapel as "bright" and the feeling at the open house as "welcoming."
Crystal Robinson, a member of the Colonial First Ward, lives a 10-minute walk away from her ward's new meeting place. A professional analyst who's commuted a half hour to church and Institute for three years, she said, "It makes me feel closer to the Church because the church is closer to me."
Her friend, Chris Bates, law clerk for a circuit judge and also a ward member, said having a building for single adults in the area "helps us feel like more of a community."
Several service projects around the neighborhood that same morning preceded the open house. Nearly 300 LDS singles joined their neighbors in painting, cleanup, yard and maintenance work at local schools parks, and a freeway exit. The building is in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood, but volunteers also helped out in an adjoining one.
Chick Walter, president of the Arlington Ridge Neighborhood Association, and coordinator of a project at Arlington's oldest building, Hume School, said, "The Mormons show up in ever greater numbers" every fall and spring to assist in projects. While retirees and other community organizations do participate, "the Mormons are the biggest group," he said, with a few longtime LDS residents providing continuity over the years.
"The congregants of the 23rd Street Chapel will continue engaging in community activities," said a letter inviting neighbors to the open house celebrating the "former office building, reborn as a sanctuary dedicated to Jesus Christ."
Said Lewis Larsen, bishop of the Potomac Ward, "It has taken several years to find a suitable location for our single congregants. We look forward to building up our community in service, faith and friendship. We are grateful for the area residents and businesses who have welcomed us with open arms."
President Nixon commented on the building's location on 23rd Street, where churches of several denominations already stand. "We know the members of our faith will be in good company with others who meet and worship in this great neighborhood every Sunday."