Franciscans enjoy spending time with each other, and there are many of events circled on the church calendar. Some examples include our annual Country Fair, a fundraiser and eagerly anticipated community event that takes place on the Saturday closest to St. Francis Day; the winter Gala, our annual black-tie dinner with live and silent auctions; and Shrine Mont, our annual parish retreat in early June at an antebellum spa hotel in Orkney Springs, Virginia. Franciscans also participate in other activities that occur periodically, such as Tables for Ten, an opportunity for parishioners to break bread in each other's homes, and Family Music Night, an informal coffee house where Franciscans and friends—young and old alike—can share their talents before an open mike.
Paul – Great Falls
Shrine Mont in Orkney Springs is a conference center of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and home of the Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration, a modest open-air cathedral built from stones pulled by horse or rolled by people from the mountain that embraces it. To the members of "Langley Parish," Shrine Mont is more than a place. It is an annual Brigadoon-like happening during the first week of June.
Folks arrive Friday afternoon with their ball gloves, tennis racquets, golf clubs, fishing rods, costumes and musical instruments in tow. The Shrine Mont Marching Band (which has not really marched in recent memory) is formed from whatever instruments appear and plays at the wine and cheese reception Friday afternoon. We have a bonfire that night. During Saturday evening's Talent Show young and old alike join in to entertain. The evening concludes with awards, first for the tennis tournament, other sporting events, and then awards for just about everything else except actual talent.
While a "church retreat," the real significance of the weekend lies in the opportunity for young and old to be with one another both at play and rocking on the porch of the Virginia House, formerly the Orkney Springs Hotel.
The weekend ends with an outdoor service in the Cathedral Shrine, perhaps even a baptism, and all with music courtesy of the Festival Brass Ensemble of the Shrine Mont Marching Band. After a delicious lunch, folks fill a container with Orkney Springs water for the ride home. It doesn't get any better than Shrine Mont.
Lois – Great Falls
Even before moving to Great Falls in 2006, my husband and I attended St. Francis as guests with our two children. My husband grew up in the Episcopal Church and attended Episcopal High School. I was raised Lutheran, and we had spent many years trying to find a church that inspired us spiritually. St. Francis was so warm and welcoming that we knew instinctively that we wanted to be parishioners and have our children attend the Creche.
Our family experienced many important events at St. Francis in a short period of time. When we moved to Great Falls, we began attending regularly. We had a family reunion the next fall at which time my brother's twin babies were baptized at St. Francis.
But the most challenging and one of the most rewarding experiences was co-chairing the Country Fair with Sandy Walker. It seemed like such a daunting task at the time, but we were overwhelmed by the generous spirit of Franciscans young and old throughout the process. I treasure those memories now and I am so grateful that my two children are taking active roles at St. Francis—Ashton as an acolyte and Shelby in the choir. Through good times and bad, I have been able to count on the St. Francis community and I am proud to have played a very small role in its considerable history.
Sandy – Great Falls
My husband and I grew up in South Africa, where we belonged to the Anglican Church and where we were married and had our children christened. When we moved to Great Falls we felt right at home at St. Francis where we continue to enjoy the wonderful fellowship. Also, we were looking for a preschool that had a warm and nurturing environment. What we found at St. Francis church is a wonderful spiritual home for our family—a place to make personal connections and become involved in the many aspects of Church and community life.
One of the highlights of the St. Francis church year is the Country Fair. Lois and I (another mother I met through the Creche) decided to co-chair the fair. From this experience we learned how St. Francis parishioners really work together in fellowship to bring the church alive for the greater community.
Our family’s lives were totally taken over by the Country Fair, but the fun we had working with fellow parishioners is a testament to what a supportive environment there is here at St. Francis. On fair day our daughters had the time of their lives and return each year because they are determined to drive the hayride tractor; taking that responsibility from Rob and Charlie!
Sam – Great Falls
The Gala at St. Francis is a wonderful party, usually held just before Lent. It gives members of the congregation an evening of fun, and it is a great fellowship activity that brings people together, especially those who attend different services. Usually, there's entertainment, a humorously conducted auction of donated goods and services, and lots of good food and comradery. It is a major fund-raiser for the church, but like most activities at St Francis, we always remember to enjoy ourselves and each other.
As a member of the congregation since the 1990's, I've found that most of the church activities are like that, especially the music program. I think our time at church is a special part of each week. The Gala is a part of that experience. It benefits the church and brings us into the Lenten season.
Tables for Ten
Beth – Vienna
My husband, Walter, and I have been St. Francis parishioners since we came to Northern Virginia from New Jersey over 20 years ago. Our "church search" began at St. Francis, and we never went anywhere else. The warmth we felt on our first visit has only intensified over the years. Combine that warmth with our beautiful Episcopal liturgy, the wonderful choir, enthusiastic outreach and many other activities too numerous to mention, and you have an outstanding church home.
One activity I will highlight, however, is Tables for Ten (perhaps because I organize it). This ministry gives singles and couples an opportunity to get to know each other in small settings. Each fall after the sign up period, I arrange people in groups of eight or ten. The groups stay together throughout the year and break bread in each other's homes until all have had a chance to host. At the end of the season all "tables" get together under one roof for a wrap up party. For us, especially in our early days at St. Francis—and for newcomers—it’s a wonderful way to get to know people.
Ginny – Great Falls
I am a wife, mother of three, homemaker, and daughter of a military officer. I also was a career commercial banker for 33 years and recently assumed a senior management role with a technology company.
We became members of St. Francis because it’s the nearest Episcopal church to our home. What good luck we had with that decision. When I asked Mother Penny, “What’s the personality of St. Francis church?,” she described it as a diverse and friendly congregation that enjoyed being together in fellowship. My husband, Clint, and I interpret her definition of St. Francis Church by calling it, affectionately, “a very social church!” So much of God’s work is accomplished through fellowship.
One of the fellowship programs is Tables For Ten. We take turns hosting potluck dinners for people in our groups of ten and enjoy the great friendships we’ve developed through the program.
Family Music Night
Rob – Great Falls
Our family has attended St. Francis for the past 12 years, and the church is an important part of our lives—it's a spiritual, social, and creative community. I've had the pleasure to organize Franciscans to participate in Family Music Nights over the past several years. These events draw all kinds of people, who come and share their unique musical talents—some young, some old, some shy and others, professional performers. It's very special to witness the inter-generational fellowship that happens at St. Francis. To see grandparents on stage with their kids and grandkids is a wonderful thing, all made possible by our church family.