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.
20th Century: Growth and Outreach
Following the completion of a streetcar line in 1890 from the District of Columbia, our neighborhood next to downtown Bethesda became known as Chevy Chase and Chevy Chase Village. The area was growing so fast that we started three mission churches between 1896 and 1903.
In 1947 the current light-filled Georgian-style brick structure was built, under the leadership of the Rev. William Creighton, a former Navy Chaplain who was called to be Rector in 1946. During this time, the Parish Hall, education and office wings were constructed.
In 1959, Rev. Creighton became Bishop Coadjutor of Washington. The Rev. William Beal became Rector and continued programs started by Bishop Creighton. St. John’s reached out into Bethesda and Potomac to create mission churches; began sharing our new St. Mary’s Chapel with St. Barnabas’ Episcopal Church of the Deaf from the District of Columbia; offered a free clinic; and provided schools for young children. In 1951, the Women of St. John’s founded the St. John’s Opportunity Shop now located two blocks north of our church. Hospice of Montgomery County, started by parishioner Sally Ketchum, had their offices in the basement for 10 years, as did other organizations. Our Memorial Garden with columbarium was built in 1987.
The Rev. Duane Alvord was the first St. John’s Rector to serve with women as his assistant and associate rectors. The Rev. Janice Robinson and the Rev. Linda Kramer both brought extraordinary spiritual gifts to our community during a time of expanding attendance. Rev. Robinson started Stephen Ministers in 1989. To continue to attract new members with young children, Rev. Alvord 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 for people who need assistance.
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.
The Rev. Sari Ateek succeeded Rev. Flanders as Rector in 2010. Our current Assistant Rector, Sarah Reynolds, is a wonderful addition and she brings a strong spiritual background and, matching Rev. Ateek, great warmth and caring to the parish. Together with St. John’s lay leaders, Rev. Ateek is continuing the tradition of openness and innovation that has become a hallmark of our community. Under his leadership, we have sponsored several refugee families, started Nourishing Bethesda (providing food for those in need) and expanded the role of lay ministers at St. John’s. He makes his sermons available to a wider audience by recording and posting them on the internet. Rev. Ateek 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.
– Cathy O’Donnell, Archivist