When Union soldiers forced plantation owners to free Sarah Gibson, her husband, Robert, a slave wagon driver, and their children, they escaped Bull Run, Manassas, Virginia, and had no idea that an explosion of life was about to begin. On their perilous journey north, Sarah would be separated from her husband while being chased by confederates with dogs barking after her and her two little children. She held onto them tight as she crossed the bloody Bull Run Stream giving God praise for deliverance north. She was later reunited with her husband and would work for a family as a seamstress to earn enough money to buy land in 1880, nearly 20 years after the emancipation proclamation, to have a place where God's name could be glorified. This was the beginning of Gibson Grove AME Zion Church. From 1880 God's name continues to be gloried there in 2021.
Like Sarah, the church has had its ups and downs. The first church congregation was the gathering of people in the community, along with her fifteen-member household, according to the 1880 Census. They met outside on Sarah’s land and sang praises to God for life and substance. Their fellowship would soon be housed in a structure that changed over the years to a proper church building in 1898 when part of the land was transferred to the Trustees of AME Zion Church. Records show that the church changed from a log structure in 1912, to a new building 1923, and later renovated in 1973 to gain heating, air conditioning, bathrooms, kitchen and a small fellowship Hall.
Records show that Mrs. Gibson who could neither read nor write but knew the Bible from cover to cover, lived by the Word, and believed in education. She had a one room school built right next to the church 1912 which was the only African American School in the Cabin John community, at a time when Public Education was not available to people of color. This school was later rented by the county to support the education of African Americans for $7.50 monthly and was later moved to Moses Hall.
Sarah Gibson died in January of 1929 and was buried near the church and Moses Hall.
Fredrick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman shared their relationship with God through The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (1796 originated) as white Methodists would not allow African Americans communion or full church benefits. It is said that one of the African American members was in prayer asking God, "why" and he replied, "Don't worry about it son, they won't let me in either". Thus the AME Zion church was formed. Gibson Grove joined this conference by worship in 1880, and in deed 1898.
Gibson Grove AME Zion church’s membership was dwindling in 2002 and the remaining three members were not able to keep the lights on or pay the bills of the church building. The trustees of Gibson Grove AME Zion decided to close the church and on January 19, 2003 the closing service was held. Bishop Williams who was in charge and speaker for the occasion noted that on the top of the program these words were written, "Order of worship Subject to change by prompting of the Holy Spirit". It was at the end of the service when he read this to the congregation and asked Rev. Bankhead to stand and he announced that the facility would not close, as was requested, but that the First Agape Congregation move into the church to complete repairs especially the leaking roof, ceiling, walls and outside of the church. This was the beginning of the Church's new name, "First Agape AME Zion Church at GIBSON GROVE." The following Sunday the church was packed with old Gibson Grove Members and First Agape Members. The Trustees of the old Gibson Grove Church gave First Agape all of the old records of the church and asked that they be protected.
A fire almost destroyed the church building completely in 2004. It was not until 2006 that First Agape AME Zion Church at Gibson Grove was made the successor of the church proper. This was necessary as major repairs could not take place unless the deed demonstrated First Agape's Stewardship as Trustees of the property.
Gibson Grove Church Founded
Church building relocated and constructed at present site
2003 - Present Day
First Agape AMEZ congregation migrates to Gibson Grove church
Mrs. Gibson was a spiritual woman and felt the need to have a place to worship that was near her home. Up to that time, she and others in the area, worshipped in a log cabin on River Road so she gave a part of her land to construct a church building.
As Pastor of First Agape AME Zion Congregation since 1997, Reverend Bankhead was assigned by the African Methodist Episcopal Church as caretaker of the Gibson Grove AME Zion Church in 2003. Under his leadership the congregations of both churches were merged and had completed extensive repairs and renovations, operating at the site until a devastating fire burned down a significant portion of the building structure on Ash Wednesday 2004. In 2006 the deed to the Gibson Grove Building was formally transferred to First Agape so that they could initiate major repairs. Reconstruction efforts are still ongoing.