By Ronda Williams – November 2021
On October 17, during a celebration of Kirk O’Cliff Presbyterian Church’s 145th anniversary, John Robert “Bobby” Goodwin stood in front of the congregation and shared his memories of growing up in “the Kirk,” where he has been a member for 70 years.
His grandparents began attending the church when he was a young boy. Pointing to various places within the approximately 900-square-foot sanctuary, he recalled a pump organ that his grandmother played, as well as a wood (and later, oil) stove that sat where the second- and third-row pews are now located. Describing the winter Sundays of his youth, he rephrased the familiar Bible verse, “Many are called, but few are chosen,” to the way he understood it as a child, “Many are cold, but few are frozen.”
It was a day to celebrate one of the oldest churches in the Lake Anna community – originally built in 1876 near the New Bridge. In 1911, following a donation by the Harris family (who still own the farmland surrounding this church), the church was moved brick-by-brick by its membership to the current location at 16420 Monrovia Road.
“Not one pane of glass was broken and only three floor pieces were damaged,” Goodwin recalls from the stories passed down from his childhood.
Another featured speaker was the Rev. Mary Harris Todd, a minister at Morton Presbyterian Church in Rocky Mount, NC, who grew up attending the Kirk. “I have often said that I could write a book called, ‘All I Need to Know About Ministry I Learned at the Kirk,” she said in her opening remarks. “Growing up in this congregation has had a profound impact on me, and it has shaped me as a pastor. I can’t share all of the lessons I learned here this morning, but I can say that just about all of them point to answers to this question: Who is the church?”
Rev. Todd went on to speak about the importance of inclusion in the church, and the Kirk’s answer to that call. “As we point to the Prince of Peace in a time of so much polarization and division, I thank God for the Kirk. I’m still trying to practice the lessons that I learned here, and to pass on the many gifts that I received.”
Those in attendance echoed Rev. Todd’s praise for the Kirk’s warmth in welcoming them and their loved ones and pointing the way to Christ. Dale Guthiel, one of the Kirk’s newest members, said he had just learned that morning of the church’s mission statement included the commitment, “We will remain a friendly, caring, informal church, welcoming everyone who professes Jesus Christ as savior,” Mr. Guthiel said, “You all live it, and that’s what has kept me coming back.”
Through the years, the tiny Kirk (meaning “church” in Scottish) has been a mainstay in what is now the Lake Anna community. Its current local ministries include supporting the eradication of food insecurity by holding food drives and manning mobile food banks in Partlow and Livingston, providing disaster relief support, responding to emergency concerns, providing warm clothing to the homeless, and supporting the school supply needs of low-income children. Regional and global ministries support Operation Christmas Child, the Presbyterian Children’s Home, and the recognized missions supported by the special offerings of Presbyterian Church USA.
“We have survived and thrived for 145 years, not by our willpower, but by God’s spirit,” said current Kirk pastor the Rev. John Grotz.
Mineral resident Hal Sharp is a descendent of one of the 13 original members of the Kirk. His grandmother, Victoria Holladay Alexander, was a girl riding on the wagon carrying the bricks from the original location (now covered by the waters of Lake Anna) in 1911. A native of Atlanta, Mr. Sharp grew up a frequent guest of the church, and remembered his grandmother’s love of the Kirk.
“She always said to me, ‘Don’t forget your church.’ It meant so much to her, and I can’t wait to tell the rest of the family that the wonderful testimonies you all have given today would’ve pleased her so tremendously … to be here at the construction of this location, and to see how the church has been built.”