Starting with her vision
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, VA, 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 close, as she crossed the Bull Run Stream, running red with the blood of soldiers from the war torn land, while she gave 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, seventeen 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 to present day, God's name continues to be glorified there.
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.
The first church congregation was the gathering of people from the community, along with Sarah’s 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 the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Records show that the church changed from a log structure in 1912, to a new building in 1923, and was later renovated 50 years later, to install heating, air conditioning, bathrooms, a kitchen, and a small fellowship Hall.
Sarah Gibson died in January of 1929 and was buried near the church and Moses Hall.
Decades later in 2002, Gibson Grove AME Zion church’s congregation dwindled to just a few members who were unfortunately unable to keep the lights on or pay the bills of the church. The trustees had to make the hard choice to close down the building. On January 19, 2003 the closing service was held where Bishop Williams who was in charge, and speaker for the occasion, noted that on top of the program the following 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 closing ceremony congregates and asked Pastor Bankhead, who was in attendance along with seveal of his own congreation, to stand where the Bishop announced that Gibson Grove church would not close, but that Pastor Bankhead’s First Agape Church congregation would move into the church building to complete overall repairs and renovations noting the leaking roof, deteriorating walls and outside appearance of the church. This endeavor brought the church under a new name, "First Agape AME Zion Church at GIBSON GROVE." The following Sunday the church was packed with previous Gibson Grove Members along with Bankhead's 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.
Before the transfer could be formally finalized, 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. A formalization of the transfer was necessary as major repairs could not take place until the deed demonstrated First Agape's stewardship as Trustees of the property.
Gibson Grove Evolution
Gibson Grove Church Founded
Mrs. Gibson was a spiritual woman and desired to have a place of worship that was near her home. Up to that time, she and others in the area, trekked to, and worshipped in a log cabin off of River Road.
Sarah Gibson has a church building constructed on her land
Sarah not only wanted a facility for the purpose of worship, but a school where African American Children could be educated. Logs from Sarah Gibson’s land were used to construct the original Church building.
Land, church, and school deeded to the AME Zion Church
Gibson Grove church is now part of the AME Zion Church. Several other people purchased land around this time. They are listed as the Scott’s, Carter’s, and Jackson’s. All participated in word, or in deed, in establishing this Church. Sarah not only wanted a facility for the purpose of worship, but a school where African American Children could be educated. Logs from Sarah Gibson’s land were used to construct the original Church building.
Gibson Grove recognized as school by Montgomery County
Montgomery County recognized the Gibson Grove Church School when there was no school for African American Children. In 1922 when the school was closed these students went without a school for five years.
Church building relocated and constructed at present site
Sarah Gibson passes away
It is believed that Sarah Gibson's body was buried somewhere near the church, the exact location is unknown, though a grave site in the back of the Church revealed three bodies buried there with the last one dated in 1912.
Capitol Beltway construction
Continuous improvments made to Gibson Grove building
Capitol Beltway construction began 1955 and was completed 1964. This highway left a drainage branch within three feet of Sarah Gibson’s Church building.
Ongoing fixes and improvements are made to the church building including a new annex, a new kitchen, and the installation of restrooms. A concereted effort is made between 1994-1997 to have all renovations completed.
First Agape AMEZ congregation migrates to Gibson Grove church
January 2003 trustees of Gibson Grove church voted to close building due to significant demographic changes in the area, relocation of the supporting African American community, years of declining membership, and the continuing need for extensive repairs. During the closing ceremony Bishop Williams asked that the Church Building not be closed, but instead move First Agape AME Zion Church into the building to maintain repair and keep it as a continuous part of the AME Zion Church. The following Sunday First Agape at Gibson Grove came into being. In Unity, amongst First Agape, and many members of Gibson Grove's congregation, Sarah Gibson’s dream to have a place of education and worship where God’s name could be glorified was renewed.
Church Building is destroyed by fire
As caretakers of the church building and property, First Agape AME Zion Congregation operated at the site until a devastating fire burned down a significant portion of the building structure on Ash Wednesday 2004.
2006 - Present
First Agape AME Zion church is formally deeded the church property
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.