Our History

St. John’s invites you to be part of our history as we grow into the 21st century.

Wood-framed church with bell tower in the early 1900s

19th Century: From Chapel to Parish

St. John’s Church, Norwood Parish, began in 19th century when the Dodge family of Norwood Farm, Bethesda, 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 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 diocese.

Entering St. John's

20th Century: Growth and Outreach

Following the completion of a street car line in 1890 from the District of Columbia, our neighborhoods next to downtown Bethesda became known as Chevy Chase and Chevy Chase Village during residential development. Nearby Norwood Park was also once part of the Dodge family’s Norwood Farm.

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.

St. John’s Rector William Creighton became Bishop Coadjutor of Washington in 1959. Under his leadership and that of his successor, William Beal, St. John’s 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 and 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 a.m. to complement our traditional services at 8:00 and 11:15 a.m. 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.

Into the 21st Century: The Crossroads of Faith and Life

Our longest serving Associate Rector, Harrison West, began serving with Duane Alford 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 5:00 p.m., Children’s Chapel during the Sunday morning family service, and the Journey to Adulthood program for teens. Susan was the driving force behind St. John’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, and Elizabeth Tesi served in that position from 2015 to 2017. Together with St. John’s 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 long-time members.