Nomadic Worship


Fairfax Methodist Church remained in the frame structure they had built in downtown Fairfax for the next 70 years until they decided they wanted to build something new out of brick and relocate in the 1940s.[i] Coinciding with this decision to move, that frame structure burned to the ground at some point before the end of World War II, leaving them not only with the desire to leave their first home, but a need.

Fairfax Methodist found a temporary place of worship at Gunnell’s Chapel in Langley.[ii] Gunnell’s Chapel was built after the Civil War intending to be used by Black churchgoers who did not have anywhere to hold or attend service. This was a perfect temporary fit.


While Fairfax Methodist Church worshiped at Gunnell’s chapel, they purchased a lot in 1949 that they hoped would one day become their new church. Located at the corner of Payne Street (Route 123) and School Street, Fairfax Methodist Church dedicated the cornerstone in 1952.[iii] Unfortunately after that dedication, Duncan Chapel (the white Methodist church who allowed the ancestors of this congregation to worship with them prior to the Civil War), also took on the name Fairfax Methodist Church.[iv] Even though their cornerstone had already been dedicated, the Black congregation made the decision to begin calling themselves the Payne Street Church in order to avoid any confusion.

In 1958, the congregation decided it had become too heavy a burden for them to continue the journey out to Langley for church every week, so they began searching for different temporary homes.[v] This is all while they were also fundraising to begin construction on the Payne Street lot. During this time, they were able to worship at different elementary schools in the area, before settling at Eleven Oaks Elementary School.

Eleven Oaks

The Payne Street Church congregation worshiped in this nomadic way into the mid 1960s and all the while did not have a dedicated pastor from the community or sent from the diocese. Instead, the congregation was ministered to by Donald C. Adams, a student at Howard University’s School of Religion who likely did the work for free since he had not yet graduated.[vi] As he reached the end of his program, Adams worked to make sure the church would survive even after his departure and he began the process of securing these Black Methodists a forever church home.

[i] St. George’s Methodist Church History Book.

[ii] Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Langley Fork Historic District. Fairfax, VA: County of Fairfax Office of Comprehensive Planning, 1980.


[iii] “Cornerstone Laying Sunday Next.” Fairfax Herald, September 19, 1952.

[iv] “Fairfax Methodists to Occupy New Church.” Fairfax Herlad, July 27, 1956.

[v] St. George’s Methodist Church History Book.

[vi] Ibid.

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