While surfing the churches in our area to see how they’ve managed to connect with their congregation through the Covid-19 Era, I started thinking about the way church services & facilities have evolved in our community. From the intimate 40 member starter church to the dynamic mega churches, it was enlightening to see the variety of services they provide to our community.
The oldest church in Great Neck is Eastern Shore Chapel, which originally existed on the eastern shore of the Lynnhaven River (1689), about a mile east of it’s current home. Adam Thoroughgood founded the church to provide Anglican services for colonists along the River to allow rural parishioners to get to church easily by water transport, coining the name “The Chapel of Ease.” In 1724 it was relocated to land now owned by Oceana. After 200 years, the church again relocated to the Laskin Rd location including pews, stained glass, the stairway to choir loft, brick walkway, and even the cemetery! With a preschool, PIN ministry, and a food pantry that serves over 200,000 locals, the impact of our oldest church reverberates through history and projects well into our city’s future.
Prior to building Eastern Shore Chapel, Thoroughgood hosted church services in his home in 1637 and built a church on his land in what is now Church Point. That church building was later relocated to the Witchduck Road location of Old Donation Episcopal Church when rising waters of the Lynnhaven Inlet assumed possession of the land and cemetery. Also, because Thoroughgood granted that original land to the pastor of the church, future development of that land was restricted, and gave rise to the prestigious Bayville Golf Course enjoyed today.
As the Great Neck area continued to blossom, many other residents organized religious services from their homes. Several used John B. Dey elementary school for their first public services. Francis Asbury United Methodist Church (1957) provides preschool services, funds Samaritan’s Purse, hosts Diaper/Blanket drives for young families. Wycliffe Presbyterian Church (1963) hosts the city’s Early Intervention/Infant Program and provides Winter Shelter to the homeless. All Saints Episcopal Church (1967) serves generations of preschoolers, provides "Full Circle Meals" for people living with AIDS, and Pennies for Prescriptions.
Lynnhaven Colony Community Church (1958) provides a Child Development Center and also partners with Lynnhaven River Now as a Pearl Faith Community. Neighbors Great Neck Baptist Church on Inlynnview Rd and Virginia Beach Christian Church on Rose Hall Drive gained their founding in the 1960s, while the Church of the Holy Family began providing Catholic Church service in the front of Laurel Cove as these neighborhoods developed. All offering an array of local outreach programs.
The “mega churches” came to Virginia Beach at the turn of this century. Spring Branch was built in the Reserve community in 2001. Grace Bible Church was launched by the son of the Virginia Beach Community Chapel’s pastor Dick Woodward in the old Be-Lo grocery store at Lynnhaven Colony, expanding to their Ansol Ln location in 2010, then opening a Norfolk location, and now growing a Strawbridge location to “Serve the City.” Wave Church was established in 1999 and opened its 80000 square feet complex in Great Neck in 2012, with seating for 2500 people and hosting a weekly service on local CBS and ABC channels.
Through their variety of theologies and style, these churches of our Great Neck community are all working hard to serve the needy through this Covid-19 Era while also connecting with their congregation remotely. Their operations might have returned to living rooms for the time-being, but their outreach will persevere.