Tuesday, March 9th, 2021

Shopper Client Stories


Celebrating 50 years at the church that love built

by Angela Slevin

From left, Fran Scott, Reverend Bill Austin and  Martha Beacham shared their memories

From left, Fran Scott, Reverend Bill Austin and Martha Beacham shared their memories

Fifty years ago, a joint project between First Christian Church of Norfolk and Diamond Springs Church, now Chalice Christian Church, resulted in the creation of the Virginia Beach Christian Church, located on the corner of Great Neck Road and Rose Hall Drive. A place of spirituality, it also drew together a congregation that was as warm and close as family and old friends could ever be.

The very first service was on February 5, 1967 at the Masonic Lodge on North Lynnhaven Road. Committees met at the home of Alice and Fred Soles to plan. The congregation grew, and they got their charter on April 7, 1968 and selected their official name: Virginia Beach Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

A young Reverend Bill Austin arrived in August 1969 with his wife, Karen. Within a few years, membership swelled, and in 1972 they moved to Trantwood Elementary School. An old piano that was missing its sides was somehow made to play, and since they couldn't leave anything at the school, the songbooks were transported back and forth every Sunday. "They were fun years," Bill smiles, laughing at the memories.

Over the next few years, the church and its members worked toward the goal of building their own sanctuary and classrooms. Church members raised funds to build the structure. On the day of the groundbreaking ceremony, all the members and congregants, about 100 strong, marched from the school to the lot on Rose Hall Drive. They formed a huge circle and all joined in the groundbreaking. "This was because it would take all of us, not just some of us, to build this church," Bill explains. "I still remember the little children jumping on the shovels trying so hard to turn over some soil!"

"The worship services were very healing and positive," Fran Scott describes. "The youth group was very strong, the leaders were extraordinarily generous with their time and personality, and it was a safe place for my girls." This attracted many more families to become part of the church. Expansion was needed, but they couldn't borrow any more money. The congregation's faith was unwavering and they prayed to learn what God had in store. Once again, their love came shining through. Alice Boyd suggested that everyone contribute what they could by a particular date, and they would just wait and see what happened next. People became very inventive; one sailor, for instance, chopped and sold firewood and donated the funds to the church.

When the designated date arrived, it was time to get a bid. To everyone's amazement, it was for exactly the amount that they had raised, no more and no less. "Isn't God good?" Dr. Austin beams.

Under the reverend's care, the church blossomed. Sunday School was taught and a talented choir was formed. Martha Beacham was involved in the choir from the very beginning. She recalls a bus trip they took to sing in a church in Dorset, Vermont – the church of a sister of one the choir members had invited them. "It was in the fall, and all around us the landscape looked like a picture-perfect postcard," Martha recollects. "It was a wonderful time!"

Outreach has always been very important to the Virginia Beach Christian Church. They were instrumental in the start of Samaritan House and Judeo-Christian outreach. Their food pantry program has grown considerably, now including Meals on Wheels.

The Exodus and Entry service...
"...was very moving; everyone was in tears.
So many generous donations
had been given to make this possible,
and people were so happy."

- The Reverend Dr. Bill Aust

Their migrant ministry on the Eastern Shore has been an annual labor of love. Every year, migrant laborers and their children arrive to help with the harvest. The church gets four day care centers ready for the children, and gives them all baths, clean clothes, clean facilities, food and an air conditioned place to sleep. In other places, the children sleep outside on the hard ground, in the heat. The volunteers even built a pavilion to provide them with shade.

Habitat for Humanity is another philanthropic group the Virginia Beach Christian Church worked with for the betterment of the community. A week-long trip to the Eastern Shore for two separate groups, takes place every year. They've helped build about 30 houses.

The nurturing character of the church produced seven new ministers, including Sherry Ward. She was a head nurse in Portsmouth, and then went on to Seminary at an older age. Sherry chose Haiti for her missionary work, braving illnesses many times, but never giving up.

March 1973 Rev. William E. Austin, Jr. receives the keys <BR>for the new building from Luther Hoy, the contractor. <BR>Watching is Rev. David Shreeves, former pastor of the Diamond Springs Christian Church, <BR>who gave the dedication sermon. <BR> <BR>Courtesy The Virginia Christian

March 1973 Rev. William E. Austin, Jr. receives the keys
for the new building from Luther Hoy, the contractor.
Watching is Rev. David Shreeves, former pastor of the Diamond Springs Christian Church,
who gave the dedication sermon.

Courtesy The Virginia Christian

It was the early 1980s, a time of growth for Virginia Beach, and with it, the church outgrew its building again. Bonds were sold to finance the expansion. An architect designed a round building, and just as Bill began talking with a builder, they realized the design was completely out of their budget. It seemed to be a blow from which they wouldn't recover - they had raised money and promised people a new building would be constructed, and now had no viable plan.
"That night was so unsettling; we didn't know what we were going to do," Bill says. "But God opened a door for us."

Someone had noticed a church being built near their office and suggested talking with them. It turned out that the builders were a Christian outfit from South Carolina who built nothing but churches and schools. That group came to Virginia Beach Christian and redesigned the plans, drawing up a rectangular building and adding offices. They even provided pews and everything else a church needed -  and the cost for all of it was below budget!

Soon after construction was completed, a remembrance service was held. All those who had been married at the church or who had dedicated their babies there were invited to go into the fellowship hall. There they each picked up an object to be placed in the new sanctuary, such as the Bible or the communion ware. This was called the Exodus and Entry service. "It was very moving; everyone was in tears," Bill remembers. "So many generous donations had been given to make this possible, and people were so happy."

Bill earned both his Master of Ministry and Doctorate of Divinity from Lexington Theological Seminary. While teaching adjunct counseling classes at Old Dominion University in the 1980s, he realized he only needed a handful of additional courses to become a licensed counselor. He completed those classes at the college, and now is a licensed professional counselor with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling in Norfolk. Bill retired from Virginia Beach Christian in 2006. His relationship column has appeared in The Shopper for many years.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the church, a two-day celebration was planned. On March 10, a luncheon and special program took place at the Clubhouse at Atlantic Shores Retirement Community. On Sunday, March 11, a special celebratory service at the church was held at 11 a.m., followed by a reception in the Austin Fellowship Hall. A display illustrating the history of the church was on view.

The future will be a time of change.  A new permanent minister is being sought. The youth group will be cultivated. If the last 50 years of faith, fellowship and love are any indicator of the next 50, the church and its congregation have something to look forward to that will be very special.

Virginia Beach Christian Church

2225 Rose Hall Drive
Virginia Beach, VA 23454

(757) 481-3494