A BRIEF SPIRITUAL BIOGRAPHY OF BETHESDA PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
“The Church That Named Bethesda”
We trace our roots to the congregation first served by the Rev. Hugh Conn and the Rev. John Orme in 1723. In 1746 Edward Offutt deeded land for the meeting house and put the Cabin John Church on the map. In 1779, the Rev. James Hunt became our pastor. When he died in 1793, associations were formed with other congregations in the “horseshoe of the Potomac” that is now Montgomery County.
After a succession of pastors, the Bethesda Meeting House was created in 1820. A frame building was built near the present site of the Bethesda Meeting House on Rockville Pike just north of Cedar Lane. The Rev. John Mines became pastor. The church was raising funds for a parsonage when the original church burned in November, 1849. But the congregation rallied and built a new church the following year and a parsonage in 1851.
The Rev. Edward Cumpston began serving both the Bethesda and Rockville churches in 1859. At his urging, church members and neighbors persuaded the post office to call its new facility Bethesda Post Office in 1871. Thus, the church named the town.
One of our most successful and influential ministers was the Rev. Dr. Parke P. Flournoy, who arrived in 1875. During his 40 years of service, the church expanded adding a branch on Montrose Road.
The Rev. Stanley White succeeded Dr. Flournoy in 1923 and presided over the relocation of the church to its present site where services were first held on July 18 1926. Plans for further church building were developed during the tenure of the Rev. John L. Parkes from 1935 until his untimely death in 1939. The Rev. James S. Albertson, the new pastor, presided over the dedication of the new addition in November, 1943 and continued to serve until late 1954.
The Rev. Dr. Carl R. Pritchett began nineteen years of service in 1956. In addition to providing strong leadership, Dr. Pritchett campaigned to renovate the original church cemetery. His leadership through participating in the March on Washington (1963) and the Selma, AL witness (1965), as well as organizing boycotts and preaching prophetic sermon, stimulated the congregation to participate in the Civil Rights Movement. In 2002, Dr. Pritchett was posthumously inducted into the Montgomery County Human Rights Hall of Fame for his “visionary leadership, outstanding achievement and altruism on the road to eliminating discrimination, and diminishing the effects of discrimination, and advancing human rights.”
The Rev. R. Talmadge Haynes, Jr. succeeded Dr. Pritchett in 1977, gaining respect for his highly regarded sermons during his ten years of service. At the same time, following the legendary Dr. Pritchett came with its perils, and the church experienced division during Rev. Haynes’ decade. From 1987 to 1989 Assoc. Pastor the Rev. Lynn Stanton-Hoyle and Interim Pastor the Rev. Dr. Richard Neff sought to right the ship, helping develop the church’s goals for the future.
The Rev. Allen Timm, who was pastor from 1989 to 1996, demonstrated a special talent for aiding individual church members to find their own lay ministries. After the well-received interim pastorate of the Rev. Nancy J. B. Clark, the church welcomed the Rev. Dr. Frederick (“Fritz”) Ritsch and his family from 1997 to 2004.
Following two interims, the Rev. Charles Booker was called to serve the congregation in June 2009.
In the generations since that beginning in 1723, our church’s members have faced and overcome the challenges of revolution, slavery, fire, civil war, segregation, and schism within the congregation. The next fourteen generations will face new challenges, and earn their own rewards, as their church continues to serve the community it named. Come visit, join in one of our many activities and see for yourselves what we are up to now!