Arlington, VA

Christian community based in a North Arlington neighborhood is the focus of a new Netflix docuseries called The Family, which alleges that the group is a shadowy right-wing cabal with an immense sphere of influence.

The series premiered on Netflix last Friday (Aug. 9) and has sparked discussion across the internet. The Family alleges that the group called The Fellowship, whose most public role is organizing the National Prayer Breakfast, plays a nebulous role in swaying public policy and government leadership for religious purposes.

The Family is based largely on two books by author Jeff Sharlet, whose time in the organization’s complex in the Woodmont neighborhood is the subject of the first episode of the show. Much of the first episode is reportedly an inside look at the group’s facilities at the end of 24th Street N., near Fort C.F. Smith Park.

At The Cedars — the group’s mansion headquarters — and its grounds, The Fellowship hosts international dignitaries and operates a pair of group homes for young men and women. As in all things, the group has kept a fairly low profile in the neighborhood, though trouble did arise in the early 2000s when some residents of the facility were arrested and pled guilty to two burglaries in the neighborhood.

The show spotlights some conflicts with the neighbors, with members of the Woodmont Civic Association saying The Fellowship has a registry of which neighbors support and which neighbors oppose the organization.

Some of the residents who are critical of The Fellowship have said in the past that the VIP traffic to and from The Cedars is disruptive. Among the high profile visitors to the facility, as detailed by Falls Church News-Press columnist Charlie Clark in 2011:

Hillary Clinton in her memoir wrote of an uplifting lunch in the mansion as a new first lady in 1993; singer Michael Jackson borrowed its rooms soon after the 9/11 attacks; conscience-troubled Republican strategist Lee Atwater and disgraced United Way chairman William Aramony took refuge on its bucolic grounds; so did Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during his Anita Hill ordeal.

Some attention was focused on the organization in recent years as high-profile sex scandals involving politicians pointed back to The Fellowship. The second episode of the show focuses on the Arlington group’s connection to the C Street Center, a townhouse in D.C. reportedly operated by The Fellowship that housed members of congress at discounted rates.

The show also questions the tax-exempt status of an organization that operates, according to the documentary, more like a private club than a church. According to Arlington County records, the Arlington locations owned by Fellowship Foundation Inc. are considered tax-exempt.

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A local interfaith organization is holding a meeting this weekend about how to ensure Amazon’s second headquarters benefits the local community.

Virginians for Organized Interfaith Community Engagement is holding the public meeting at Wakefield High School (1325 S. Dinwiddie Street) this Sunday, June 9 from 4:30-6:15 p.m. and is encouraging residents from Arlington and Alexandria to attend.

Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey and Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson are expected to attend the event, per a VOICE press release. Other attendees slated to be there include local clergy of various religions, teachers, students, and business owners.

The topics of discussion include affordable housing and equal opportunities in education.

“Arlington and Alexandria officials have talked about the need to work together to mitigate negative impacts and maximize public benefits,” VOICE spokeswoman Marjorie Green told ARLnow. “This VOICE gathering will mark the first public joint event addressing potential actions in any detail.”

The event is free but attendees are asked to RSVP to [email protected]‐iaf.org.

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Altar'd State clothing (photo via Facebook)Christian clothing store Altar’d State is coming to the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, according to building permit applications filed just before Christmas.

The retailer offers women’s clothing and accessories with a God-centric mission statement. Founded in 2009, the company has about 60 stores nationwide and donates one percent of all sales to local and international charities.

At Pentagon City mall, Altar’d State will serve both local customers and the throngs who visit the mall by the busload during school and church trips.

The permit application says the store will be 4,700 square feet and on the second floor of the mall.

Here’s how fashion website Racked described the retailer:

Altar’d State does not sell Christian apparel. The company sells feminine and flirty womenswear that taps into boho-chic trends for the Instagram set. Its stores push both in-house brands and external labels, all showcasing looks that are big on antiqued lace, soft tulle, and crochet detailing, with plenty of flowy layers in muted colors.

Which is to say that for a self-described Christian fashion company, there’s a surprising dearth of religious iconography when it comes to its clothes. Instead, there are graphic tees best worn by weekend warriors sipping on mimosas that read “Will Work for Brunch” and “I Hate Mondays.”

But Altar’d State’s faith is never far from view. Stores pipe in contemporary Christian music and the dressing rooms feature those aforementioned prayer request books. There are plenty of wood-block wall hangings with snappy messages like, “Just Sayin’,” “Be Nice or Leave,” and “I Totally Agree with Myself” — but the larger blocks displayed in-store include text like, “Be Patient. Our prayers are always answered but not always on the exact day we’d like them to be,” and “Don’t tell God that you have a big problem. Tell your problem that you have a big God.” A display near the front entrance of the Austin store features hand towels with Philippians 4:13 alongside joke linens (all stitched in the same distressed Courier font) that define a calorie as, “A tiny creature that lives in your closet and sews your clothes a little tighter every night.”

Hat tip to Chris Slatt. Photo via Facebook.

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Rock Spring Church (via Google Maps)

The Rock Spring Congregational United Church of Christ (5010 Little Falls Road) will discuss the intertwining of race and religion this month through sermons and evening session called “Starting the Conversation.”

The sermons and conversations were sparked by the deaths of Freddie Gray and Eric Garner while in police custody, which made national headlines and sparked a national dialogue on race, Rev. Kathy Dwyer said.

“I think we have just really been struck by the shocking events that have put the spotlight on racial injustice,” Dwyer said.

Starting on Sunday, Sept. 13, Dwyer will talk about racial justice through a series of three sermons about the story of Esther. The sermons will be a “broader brush stroke” about race and prejudice, she said.

“This series is based on the book of Esther, a dramatic story in the Hebrew Bible that is about an imbalance of power, privilege, prejudice, and taking risks to effect change,” Dwyer said. “In her sermons, Rev. Dwyer will reflect on Esther’s story and its connection with our lives, especially as it connects with the concerns about racial justice in America today.”

The church will also hold a series of three evening conversations about race and religion starting on Sunday, Sept. 20, which will be led by Dwyer and church leaders Susan Henderson, Laura Martin and Dale Dwyer. Each conversation will be held from 6:30-8 p.m. in the Saegmuller Room at the Rock Spring church.

The conversations are open to youth, teenagers and adults, she said, and are part of a larger, “year-long focus on racial justice” that will extend into 2016.

Through the sessions, the church and its congregation will “explore the fundamental issues of racism, connecting the discussion to our church’s and denomination’s histories, to our our individual beliefs and actions, to the role of race in society and to the themes of race in religion,” according to the Starting the Conversation event page.

The discussion on Sept. 20 is called “Whose Story?” and will address what sparked the Church to talk about race. Participants will also talk about how race connects to the church and themselves in terms of their “denominational histories, identities and commitments.”

On Sept. 27, the church leaders will look at language and behaviors in terms of racism. The group will also look at the difficulties in talking about racism as part of the “Racism 101 and Beyond” conversation.

The last planned discussion, “The Bible and Racism” on Oct. 4, will examine the role of race in the Bible. Church members will also talk about how racial and cultural themes in the Bible are different than today’s experience with race.

“In our core values, we proclaim that we are an inclusive community, and a justice-seeking community. When we sing our centennial hymn, we pledge to loose the bonds of injustice,” Dwyer and church officials said in an email to congregants Thursday night. “We look forward to the start of this exciting program of learning, sharing, and taking action in support of our core values.”

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Our Lady of the Vanishing Arts, photo courtesy of Artisphere

A new art piece will lambast the closure of Artisphere on the venue’s final day of live performance.

Artist Carolina Mayorga can neither confirm nor deny that she will assume the form of the Virgin Mary apparition during a performance titled “Our Lady of the Vanishing Arts.” But Mayorga, who’s dressed as the holy figure before, says there’s a good possibility a divine apparition could materialize at 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 6.

“[The Virgin Mary] is thinking about making an apparition at Artisphere,” Mayorga says, chuckling. “She might appear. She’s thinking about it.”

During the performance piece, which lasts an hour and precedes a musical performance by Stooges Brass Band and Black Masala, Mayorga will perform mock holy rituals and anoint Artisphere attendees.

“I have these cardboard letters that spell the word art,” explains Mayorga. “and I’m going to burn them in a little metal tray, mix that with oil, and use a brush to [paint dollar signs on attendees’ foreheads].”

A live organist will play Catholic mass classics such as “Ave Maria” alongside the performance.

“I call it Ash Saturday,” says Mayorga.

The point of the performance, explains Mayorga, isn’t to belittle religion. Instead, it’s to mourn the loss of a local artistic institution.

“I benefitted from Artisphere for a long time,” she says. “I did an artist in residency with them in 2013. They’ve always been supportive of my work.”

Some of the art from Mayorga’s residency still clings to the gallery’s walls as a permanent installation.

“When you want to do a special performance, you need a venue like Artisphere,” Mayorga says. “It really hurts to lose it.”

Photo courtesy of Artisphere.

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Bishop Paul LoverdeA small group of local Catholics is asking Pope Francis to consider selecting a new Arlington bishop who will bring a “fresh view” to the area.

The current bishop of the Diocese of Arlington, Paul Loverde, is 74. As is customary for Catholic bishops, after he turns 75 in September he will be expected to submit his resignation for the pope’s consideration.

“A few faithful Catholic individuals who live in the Arlington Diocese” have created a letter of “requested considerations in selecting the next bishop,” to be sent to Pope Francis, and are asking for those who agree with them to sign on to the letter online via a dedicated website, novabishop.org.

(The site has been taken down since ARLnow.com declined the request of one of the organizers, Frederick Pugarelli, to discuss the contents of this article before its publication.)

Loverde has been outspoken in his opposition to abortion, gay marriage and pornography. The letter does not mention any of those sometimes-divisive issues. Instead, it references local issues like poverty, diversity, hunger, homelessness and affordable housing.

The letter supports the pope’s stated criteria for bishop selection and asks the Church to consider a bishop who will emphasize humility over politics.

“Being a satellite of Washington, there is a natural focus on power, influence, and bureaucracy,” the letter states. “Unfortunately, this can permeate clergy and laity attitudes resulting in clericalism on the one hand and politicalization of the laity on the other. The Gospel message of humility and servant ministry is needed as a counter-balance to both clericalism and politicalization.”

“We further urge… the new Bishop be someone who comes to the Diocese with a fresh view of the challenges and the potential of our Catholic community,” the letter concludes. “Thank you, and we pray that the Holy Spirit will guide you, with the assurance that we will welcome with love and respect whomever you appoint.”

Via email, Pugarelli said the following of the letter and its writers:

This was not done by a group; just by a few faithful Catholic individuals who live in the Arlington Diocese. Recognizing that Bishop Loverde will be taking a well-earned retirement at some point in the future, we wanted to specifically support Pope Francis’ criteria for selecting a new Bishop and to note some of the challenges that exist in the Northern Virginia community as a whole.

Hopefully as lay people we have crafted a request that is respectful and also supportive of the Church’s selection process for new diocesan bishops. We purposely avoided seeking any group label or even associating it with particular individuals’ names lest people try to discern whether this is “moderate,” “liberal,” conservative,” “traditional,” or any other label other than just “Catholic.” This is simply what it is, a respectful request we wanted to offer to other lay Catholics in the Arlington Diocese to show their support for Pope Francis’ criteria and the selection process. They can choose to sign it or not; to create their own letters/requests or not.

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