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Grace Community Church to fill huge space in Ballston Quarter mall

Ballston Quarter in the snow (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 3:55 p.m.) Grace Community Church has its sights set on a new home: Ballston Quarter.

The church would occupy about 23,280 square feet of space on the second floor of the mall. It will be across the atrium from WHINO, the art gallery, wine bar and restaurant, and next to the Macy’s.

Next month, the Arlington County Board is set to hear the church’s request to operate in the mall. If approved, Grace Community Church Pastor John Slye says construction on the indoor mall space will begin shortly after and the congregation could move in between July 1 and September of this year.

Ballston Quarter would be a big change from Grace Community Church’s current meeting place — the Thomas Jefferson Middle School auditorium at 125 S. Old Glebe Road. For most of its 20-year history, the church has held worship services at Key Elementary School and later TJ, which Slye attended as a kid. (For office space, Grace Community Church did for a time use a church at 11th Street N. and N. Vermont Street — being redeveloped as apartments.)

“We’ve really enjoyed our time and our partnership [at TJ]. They have been absolutely fantastic,” Slye said. “We’ll be sad to go.”

But a permanent, dedicated home has always been the goal, one the church has started pursuing seriously in the last four years, Slye says. It chose the Ballston Quarter location in 2020, signed a lease and assembled a construction team shortly after that.

The future location of Grace Community Church in Ballston Quarter (via Ballston Quarter, with circle added by ARLnow)

While the space will seat 200 fewer people than TJ’s auditorium, the trade-off is that the church will have a space customized to its needs for the first time.

“Our name is Grace Community Church, so we’re really into community, and we do a lot of stuff around food and fun,” Slye said. “We’ll do some concerts — not just Christian — but partnerships with the community, conferences, all kinds of fun things that, we believe, will be a help in some way, shape or fashion in the community.”

An architectural drawing of the new Grace Community Church, planned for Ballston Quarter Mall (via Arlington County)

The church will have two Sunday services, one at 9:30 and another at 11 a.m., with each bringing in about 480 worshippers, as well as a Thursday service at 7 p.m., according to an application filed with Arlington County. The conferences and concerts will take place on Friday evenings and during the day and evening on Saturday.

Nick Cumings, a land use lawyer representing the church, writes in the church’s application to the county that the regional shopping center “can easily accommodate the expected number of worshippers” as well as their cars in the Ballston Quarter garage.

Religious uses are allowed under the zoning code for the mall, but the church is required to get a site plan amendment approved by the County Board to operate, per the application.

Ballston Quarter’s amenities, its centrality and proximity to the Ballston Metro station will increase the church’s profile, Slye says. That will allow the church to amplify its partnerships with local organizations, such as Arlington Food Assistance Center.

It will also introduce more people to what he says is the “vaccine” to modern malaises such as anxiety, loneliness and purposelessness: the Biblical mandate to love the stranger through community organizing and volunteering.

“We’ve got anxiety running wild, frustration, meaningless, purposelessness,” he said. “We have a vaccine for that: loving-kindness… We need these principles introduced to make a difference to our lives and to the world — and they just work.”

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