Formed in 1739, Christ Church is the enduring core church of colonial Prince George's Parish. The parish dates from 1726, an offspring of one of the original southern Maryland parishes, which at the outset served a very extensive but sparsely populated frontier area of central and western Maryland. The Reverend George Murdock, a Marylander ordained in London's St. Paul's Cathedral in 1724, was our first rector.
Our first church sanctuary was a clapboard and log chapel located one mile from the present building on the banks of Rock Creek (the grounds of today's Rockville Cemetery). In 1808, the chapel was replaced by a brick building and was consecrated by Thomas Claggett, the first Episcopal bishop consecrated on American soil. Christ Church later became the Parish home church when Rock Creek Parish was established in the District of Columbia. As the town of Rockville grew, the parishioners decided to move the church "downtown" to its present location in 1822. During the Civil War, parishioners were divided between slave holders and Unionists. Even with this division, Christ Church was a local stop on the Underground Railway. During a local skirmish, all of the Vestry members were taken hostage and force marched, by the Confederate General J. E. B. Stuart, 20 miles to another town where they were released unharmed. In 1884 when gothic revival architecture was near its peak, construction began on the present building, using the site and materials of the 1822 Church. Work was completed in 1887.
A parish hall was constructed in 1926, which provided a gathering place for plays, concerts, operettas and community meetings. In 1956, the hall was enlarged and new Sunday School facilities were built. The last major expansion during the mid-1960's trebled the worship space and added new classroom space. The 1960's expansion marked several keystone decisions. First, we decided to remain in downtown Rockville rather than move out to the far suburbs -- keeping us the home church to the evolving and complex center of town. Second, it cemented our partnership with Christ Episcopal School, which shares our space and our mission. The School's presence reflects the high priority we have placed on Christian education over the years. This priority is also reflected in a continuing strong Sunday School and in a wide range of adult education programs. Originally a part of the Diocese of Maryland, our parish became part of the Diocese of Washington when it was created in 1896, in company with other Maryland parishes adjoining the District of Columbia and extending into southern Maryland. Membership in this diocese brings us into Christian fellowship with a wide range of peoples and settings, from rural southern Maryland, to the inner city and suburbs within Washington, D.C., to the busy metropolitan area small cities like our own. Prince George's Parish has been a mother church for new parishes and mission churches. Ascension Parish in Gaithersburg was our latest parish spin-off in the 1950's. Families from Christ Church were instrumental in initiating St. Nicholas mission. Christ Church has also taken a leadership role in ecumenical activities for at least thirty years, particularly under the encouragement and guidance of our Rector Emeritus, Father Elwyn Brown. Several years ago, one of our Assistant Rectors, Betsy Hague, was consecrated jointly by Episcopal and Lutheran bishops -- a significant event in Christian unity.
Worship through music has been another emphasis at Christ Church. For over a century, our choirs have provided leadership in Sunday worship through the singing of psalms, hymns, canticles, service music, and anthems. In 1919, we invested in our first pipe organ. In the 1950's our rector, Father Raymond Black, introduced the practice of chanting major portions of the liturgy (and also directed parish productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas). During the 1970's, annual choir concerts included Bach cantatas, Requiems by Faure and Rutter, Britten's St. Nicholas and Noye's Fludde, and the Stravinsky Mass. Recent custom has seen the incorporation of major works of the liturgical repertoire within the celebration of Sunday Eucharists several times a year.
While we are often seen (and see ourselves) as a church of traditional practices, we have done much to move to meet changing times and parish needs. We have transitioned smoothly to the new editions of Prayer Book and Hymnal. We have introduced a strong and growing lay ministry. Women joined our vestry in 1970. We welcomed our first woman priest, Mother Eleanor Biscoe, in 1990. We have hosted a number of seminarians, including several from Africa. Our worship services have adapted to a changing congregation, while still holding to their Prayer Book foundation. We have welcomed persons of many ethnic, economic, faith, and racial backgrounds. Also, we have opened our doors and our hearts to the spiritually and physically needy of our community in a number of ways. We have a foundation of accomplishment in working to fulfill our mission statement.