On December 5, 1922, a meeting of 28 people gathered at the invitation of Mr. Mancill and Mr. Moore, in the Potomac Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC. At that time, there were no churches in the neighborhood—and for that matter, no chain grocery stores or televisions! There was, however, a trolley car line that ran near “Conduit Street” (now MacArthur Boulevard).
The purpose of the meeting was to organize a Sunday School for children and adults, which subsequently convened on January 7, 1923 with an attendance of 43. The Sunday School met in the local grocery store owned by the Fox family, now the Boathouse Restaurant. Records show that the church assets were $13.90, though the property on which we still exist was purchased for $1200.
Membership was open to anyone of any denomination, and eleven denominations were represented among the charter members. In September, 1923, the church hired Rev. Oscar Randall as its first pastor.
In 1928, the purchase of a house on the corner expanded the church property along Cathedral Avenue, and regular attendance of over 200 people inspired the addition of five classrooms at a cost of $640.
The cornerstone of the original sanctuary was laid on July 17, 1938, and the first service was held in the new building on November 6 of that year. The first candlelight Christmas Eve service was held in 1942. In 1944, the Boy Scouts became active under the leadership of John Mack. There was no permanent pastor from 1943-1945, but then an Army chaplain served the church until 1951.
The year 1950 was pivotal: Two ecumenical organizations, one black and one white, formed the intentionally interracial National Council of Community Churches, now the International Council of Community Churches (ICCC) and locally, the name of the neighborhood was officially changed from Potomac Heights to the Palisades, leading to the church’s transition to its present name in 1953.
Rev. Nelson Pierce began a 15-year ministry in 1952, before later becoming president of the ICCC from 1968-69. During this period, a bowling league was established, and grew ultimately to 16 teams; a capital campaign raised $90,000 to pay off the debt of the church property (1954); the Sunday School building, housing many church records, was destroyed by fire (1957); a new education building was dedicated with 320 in attendance (1959); The Alice Lloyd College Choir, of Kentucky, paid the first of many visits (1960); and a parsonage was purchased on MacArthur Boulevard (1963).
Numerous pastors served the church from 1969-1978, a decade during which a dinner theatre group became a major source of fundraising. The church celebrated its Golden Anniversary in 1972, and the church retired it’s second mortgage (thanks to an anonymous gift of $5000). Air conditioning was installed at a cost of $16,000. On June 26, 1975, the education building was officially dedicated as Pierce Hall. In 1978, Mabel Rogers became the first female chair of the church executive board.
Rev. Jeffrey Newhall, a son of the congregation who had been ordained in 1972, was called as pastor in 1978. The ICCC Samaritans men’s group began serving Ham and Oyster dinners. Church women began the New Idea Society and held rummage sales. The XYZ Club began for seniors. A van for outreach purposes was purchased for $2000. An outreach minister was hired. A new organ was installed. A reformed Jewish congregation shared our space. The Community Preschool of the Palisades opened its doors with 25 children enrolled. Rev. Newhall held leadership positions at Sibley Hospital, with the NCCC and with the Consultation on Church Union.
Rev. Steve Odom served between 1987-93, and in 1988 he began a 66-week sermon series on every book of the Bible. The preschool grew; the social hall was renovated; the church endowment fund was initiated; a marathon reading of the Bible included Rev. Jessie Jackson as a participant; the church won first place in the 4th of July parade; relationships were built with Christian families in Russia; framed photos of the congregation dating to 1923 were unveiled on the 70th anniversary in 1993.
The first female pastor, Rev. Kate Epperly, was called in 1994, and served until 2004. Rev. Lindenblad was Associate Pastor, and Jim Rogers continued a 36-year term as Music Director. The congregation developed vision and mission statements, and set goals on religious inclusiveness and congregational life. The church’s support of the ICCC included a donation to purchase its office in Illinois. The 75th Anniversary was celebrated; new Chalice hymnals were purchased, and a children’s bell choir formed. Various facility improvements were undertaken, the church governance structure was revised, and Simone Fitzgibbon began serving as church organist. Highlights of the church program included Diane Rehm speaking at our 80th anniversary (2003), and four members, George Elsey, Nelson Pierce, Chris Dorval, and Jim Rogers, discussing their many years as White House employees (2004).
From 2005-2012, Rev. Brian Merritt served the church, and Connie Rhodes and Amelia Clark were hired to lead music and the preschool, respectively. A cellphone tower was installed on the roof, and a new boiler was installed in the basement. The recession impacted our church finances, as well as the lives of many members, and rental to outside groups became essential to balancing the budget. A website was established and a memorial garden was constructed.
Rev. Jeff Stinehelfer was hired as Interim Minister in 2012, and was installed as Senior Pastor in 2013 (three-quarter time), and Rev. Beth McKinney, a daughter of the congregation, was installed on the same Sunday, as part-time Assistant Pastor. Maribeth Handsman retired in 2013 after 16 years as Church Administrator, a position which church member Polly Johnson has held since 2014. Among recent highlights in the church’s life are the 90th Anniversary celebration in 2013 (125 current and former members constituted our highest attendance at worship in years), and the book-signing and presentation by Congressman John Lewis (with more than 200 people filling our sanctuary). After 30 years of oversight by the church, the pre-school is becoming an independent non-profit organization. Bluegrass, jazz, folk, and various special musicians enlivens our worship. The church council and church members are engaged in accessing our mission as we approach 100 years in the Palisades.
Our middle name is “Community”!