The History of Burke UMC
The Full Story
In 1852 “Burke’s Station” was constructed by the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. A post office is constructed, a one-room schoolhouse at Fairview, and later a race track.
In 1903, the right-of-way was relocated and the old Burke Station no longer needed. The building was repurposed and used as a community hall, a school, a Sunday School.
The building originally faced the railroad right-of-way, now state Route 652. It contained a passenger waiting room, a ticket office and a telegraph office. In 1929, the building became the gathering space for the people of Burke Methodist – who had been gathering in homes since 1927.
About 1940-42 the waiting room was razed and the remaining building was rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise so that the original east side would face north.
About Willie Harlow (1895-1988)
The cross that stood atop Burke UMC from the 1940s until it moved to the present location was built by local Burke resident John William (Willie) Harlow.
When the original Burke UMC was remodeled in the 40s, William Harlow was engaged at the time to do carpentry work in order to convert the building to church use. As he remodeled, he found many newspapers of the Civil War period, most of which are still contained within the walls of the building.
Willie Harlow was a key personality and presence in Burke, VA. He served as a community leader, and was known for his intelligence and strong character. A devoted Catholic, he felt “no church should be without a steeple and a cross” so he built them for Burke UMC at no cost. Fred Kielsgard remembers Willie telling him about staying up all night to mold the aluminum base to the cross so the weather wouldn't ruin it over the years.
Willie’s offering to God and kindness to Burke UMC remains – even as the cross has moved with us to our present location. We recognize him as part of the fabric of this community – and this church – with our gratitude.
Struggles and endurance...
The community and church suffered in the 1950s. The Federal Government appropriated 4,500 acres of land in October of 1951 to build a new Washington International Airport in Burke. Houses were moved, burned and vandalized while the community fought to keep the airport out. Attendance at Burke Methodist dwindled.
In 1958 that another location in Chantilly, VA was decided by President Eisenhower for the present Washington Dulles International Airport, but much damage had been done to the stability of the area in the previous seven years.
In 1956, Rev. Cecil Hobbs was appointed to Burke Methodist and was tasked with determining whether the church should be closed.
By 1958, he had helped to revitalize the congregation – and attendance continued to improve as the community began to grow again.
The first large subdivision in the vicinity, Kings Park, was constructed beginning in 1960, and was followed by many others over the next two decades, converting Burke into a densely populated suburban community.
Burke Methodist became Burke UNITED Methodist in 1968 when the Evangelical United Brethren joined with the Methodist Church and the new blended name was created.
Growing and moving forward...
By the late 1970s, Burke UMC had 65 active members. Leaders realized that the church would need a larger space in order to grow and flourish as the suburbs around Burke continued to expand. Extra space had been added to the little church, but it hadn’t solved the growth problem. For several years the congregation had debated the idea of constructing a new building in another location that would make future expansion possible.
In 1977, Edwin and Helen Lynch donated five acres of their property for the construction of a new larger church building. Developer Milt Peterson helped Burke UMC exchange this land for the church’s present location at the corner of Burke Centre Parkway and Burke Lake Road. The old little church was sold and construction began.
A new building with endless possibilities!
The first service in the new building was held on April 29, 1979 with Rev. Steve Jones as pastor. A dynamic speaker aided by a welcoming congregation, he was responsible for a rapid increase in membership.
Many additions followed as the church continued to expand. In 1985, a new Education Wing was constructed to house the flourishing Sunday school program. By 1990, church attendance had grown so much that a larger sanctuary and more office space were needed. Courageously, the church built again. The first service in this soaring new space was held on March 10, 1991 with Rev. Jim Hennings as pastor.
Additional building projects occurred in 1997 and 2002 to add additional education spaces in the basement and expand the kitchen and staff offices.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith."