Celebrating like it's 1856

Church events mark 150th birthday

October 29, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

In 1854, Septimus Tustin rode his horse every Saturday from Washington to deliver Presbyterian sermons in a small grove of trees off Hall's Cross Roads.

By early 1856, the demand for the church services in Aberdeen was growing, prompting the construction of a small brick chapel that was dubbed Grove Presbyterian Church.

Today the congregation of about 140 members - some of whom are descendants of the founding members - is celebrating the church's 150th anniversary to mark the church's continuing presence in the county.

The festivities began Friday night with an old-fashioned hymn sing, and continue at 10 a.m. today with an 1850s-style worship service.

"I will be dressed in period costume, and will give a sermon given during the 1850s by Charles Haddon Spurgeon," said the Rev. David Wilson. "He was one of the most famous preachers in 19th-century England. And when he preached more than 6,000 people would come to listen."

As part of the service, the session, or governing board members of the church, will be separated, with men on one side and women on the other, said Wilson.

"Men and women would not have set together during the 19th century," Wilson said.

The culmination of the celebration is at 3 p.m. and will include a procession and recession of bagpipe music and several guest speakers.

Over the course of 150 years, the church has undergone several changes: a new church building, an expansion, building restoration after a fire and the renovation of the community center.

The church almost closed several times.

That the church remains in the community is a tribute to its members, said Wilson.

"The members of this church are hard-working," he said. "Some of them amaze me with their willingness to help. I believe the church sustains because it is biblically sound, spiritually alive and the people joyfully serve."

Although the church has struggled in the past, the core of the membership is committed to this church in its current location, said Wilson.

"When this church was first built, this location was in the hub of Aberdeen," said Wilson, who has been the pastor of the church for more than two years. "We've talked about the possibility of changing the location of the church, but when we brought it to a vote each time, the church members voted to stay at this location. We want to continue the legacy here."

The church was formally organized with about 20 charter members, by the Presbytery of Baltimore (equivalent to a diocese in the Catholic religion), according to a history compiled by Aberdeen attorney Jon Livezey.

Later, Aberdeen Proving Ground played an important role in the continuation of the church. When the proving ground was established in 1917, the pastor of the church provided chaplain services to the military members. After World War I, youth activities were started at the church, said Livezey.

Sunday school attendance increased, the youth began to attend the Presbyterian summer camps, and a Boy Scout troop was organized, Livezey said. Once again, the church congregation outgrew its facilities.

"Land was purchased next to the church and the manse erected, a large pipe organ was installed, and the Sunday school addition was built. The new facilities enabled a vacation Bible school to be established," wrote Livezey.

Membership peaked at about 600 members in the 1970s, but by the time the church took on the renovation of the Monroe Community building in 2001, the membership had decreased to about 140 members.

"But somehow that small group of people managed to take on the $1.3 million needed to restore and renovate the property," said Wilson. "The members lack defeatism. They are mostly retirees that continue to serve with vigor, joy and hope."

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