From Norwood Farm to Norwood Parish
by Cathy O’Donnell, St. John’s Archivist
St. John’s Church, Norwood Parish, began in 19th century when the Dodge family of Norwood Farm gave some of their farm land to establish a chapel. It was a wood frame structure with a bell tower finished in 1874 that burned to the ground in 1914. The second church was a Gothic stone building where congregations worshiped for the next 34 years. In 1948, the people of St.John’s built the light-filled Georgian-style brick building with a bell tower in which we worship today. Our neighborhoods next to downtown Bethesda became known as Chevy Chase and Chevy Chase Village during residential development following the completion of a street car line in 1890 from the District of Columbia. Nearby Norwood Park was also once part of the Dodge family’s Norwood Farm.
In 1895, when the Diocese of Maryland was subdivided to create the Diocese of Washington, St. John’s Chapel became St. John’s Church Norwood Parish in the new Washington Diocese. St. John’s Rector William Creighton became Bishop Coadjutor of Washington in 1959.
Under the leadership of William Creighton and his successor William Beal, we reached out into Bethesda and Potomac to create mission churches, and began sharing our new St. Mary’s Chapel with St. Barnabas’ Episcopal Church of the Deaf from the District of Columbia. The Women of St. John’s founded the St. John’s Opportunity Shop now located two blocks north of our church. We started the Hospice of Montgomery County, offered a free clinic and provided schools for young children. Our Memorial Garden with columbarium was built in 1987.
Duane Alvord was the first St. John’s Rector to serve with women as his assistant/associate rectors. Linda Kramer and Janice Robinson both brought extraordinary spiritual gifts to our community during a time of expanding attendance. To continue to attract new members with young children, Duane created our family-friendly service at 9:00 in the morning to complement our traditional services at 8:00 and 11:15. During his tenure we improved the church building by adding a full service elevator and creating the stair-free West Avenue lobby entrance. These renovations, together with two wheelchair lifts, made our church accessible to people in wheelchairs. Our longest serving Associate Rector, Harrison West, began serving with Duane and stayed with us after he retired. Harrison was called as Rector of Christ Episcopal Church, Guilford, Connecticut, in 2010.
Susan Flanders became our first female Rector in 1998. Susan’s inclusive vision resulted in our practice of welcoming everyone to share Communion with us at the Lord’s “Open Table.” Her innovations included our “Come As You Are” worship service every Sunday at 5 PM and Children’s Chapel during the Sunday morning family service, and the “Journey to Adulthood” program. Susan was the driving force behind Norwood Parish’s decision to improve our worship space as part of the process of replacing the prior organ with the magnificent pipe organ we enjoy today. Before Susan retired in 2008, she had expanded St. John’s reach to the internet with our first and second websites.
Sari Ateek succeeded Susan as Rector in 2010. Sarah Lapenta-H served as his Associate Rector from 2011 to 2014. Elizabeth Tesi served as Associate Rector beginning in 2015. Together with Parish lay leaders, Sari is continuing the tradition of openness and innovation that has become a hallmark of our community. Sari has expanded the role of lay ministers at St. John’s and makes his sermons available to a wider audience by recording and posting them on the internet. Sari is known for his warmth, sense of humor and great compassion. As the father of two young children, Sari relates to our youngest members and their parents. As the son of an Episcopal priest, he also appreciates the values of our senior members.