Woodlawn Baptist Church is a thrilling tale entwined with the rich history of Fairfax County. Woodlawn Estate, originally 2,000 acres, was gifted to Nellie Custis, the adopted daughter of our first president, George Washington in 1802. Over the 19th century, the estate would be parceled-off and sold as home sites. In 1850, John and Rachael Mason purchased Woodlawn Mansion and the immediate adjacent property. It is from these humble beginnings that Woodlawn Baptist Church was formed.
Originally in 1859, the Mason’s founded a Sunday “Lord’s Day” school with John Mason as its superintendent. By August 1868, Woodlawn Baptist was constituted a church and received into the Potomac Association of Southern Baptists. The members in these very early days most likely met in the parlor of Woodlawn Mansion until construction of the first sanctuary could be completed.
In 1872 Otis Mason, son of John and Rachel and later curator of the Ethnology and Anthropology Departments of the Smithsonian Institution, gave a portion of the estate he owned for the building of a “meeting house”. There, Otis Mason preached at Woodlawn Baptist until 1876 when Reverend Samuel Chapman became the church’s first called pastor.
The humble “meeting house” grew over the next half century to include a basement, belfry, and an education building with baptistery by 1940. Church membership blossomed in 1943 with 160 active members and Sunday school attendance reaching 190.
By 1962, the growth of the church body necessitated the construction of new buildings to replace the now-near 100 year old original. The construction would entail an expansion of the church property line into Fort Belvoir—an undertaking that would require a literal Act of Congress to achieve. With the tireless efforts of then Woodlawn Pastor Roy Whitescarver and gracious assistance of Congressman Joel T. Broyhill, Senator A. Willis Robertson, and Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr., House Resolution 11064 was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on August 14th, 1964. The law enabled the congregation to purchase nearly three acres of land from the United States Army for the sum of almost $12,000.
With the essential land and requisite demolition permits obtained, the first new edifice to be constructed was the education building, located behind and to the side of the old structure. Woodlawn Baptist broke ground on the education building in May 1969 and was able to conduct worship services for the first time in the fellowship hall on Christmas Day (1969). Membership by the end of 1969 was 394 with 316 in Sunday school attendance.
Very little would change at Woodlawn Baptist over the next two decades. The congregation continued to meet in the original sanctuary and was blessed by the new education building as well. In 1989, a building fund drive was launched for the erection of a new worship center. The original church building and 1940’s education wing were demolished in preparation of the new sanctuary. Ground was broken in April of 1996 and by April 1997, the new sanctuary was finally completed.