A HISTORY OF HOPE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
By Karen DeFazio
Hope began in 1974 largely due to the work and persistence of Keith and Pearl Custis and Arlin and Kathy Altimus. Keith was a newly retired Presbyterian minister who had relocated to the Kettering community and who wondered why there were no Presbyterian churches nearby. Keith convinced the Presbytery’s New Church Development Committee to start a church in the area. The project was dubbed the Largo-Lottsford Project. Arlin was heavily involved in finding like-minded people to come and worship at the very new church.
A house and 5 acres was purchased for use as a church. Worship services were held in the living and dining rooms. A porch was enclosed to add more worship space. Presbytery appointed the organizing minister, Don Stewart, and provided financial support for the first 6 years. At first worshippers were expected to BYOC (bring your own chair), then some second hand folding chairs were acquired. Finally, the infamous yellow chairs were purchased. These chairs were known for their ability to trip anyone who tried to use them. They are still used on occasions when lots of extra seating is required. Musical instruments were scarce early on, so worship was accompanied by a ukulele until a piano could be acquired. The church was burgled shortly thereafter and among the things stolen was the ukulele and the coffee urn given to the church by Don Stewart.
The Largo-Lottsford Project was formally organized on May 18, 1975 as Hope Presbyterian Church. Its membership consisted of 33 mostly very young families (the oldest couple in the church were a venerable 50-ish). It wasn’t long until overcrowding began to be noticed. Chairs filled the living room, dining room, enclosed porch and the hall to the bathroom. The current sanctuary was added in 1977-1978. It had two rooms in the back corners of the sanctuary. One was for meeting and Sunday School; the other had a large glass window for parents with unruly babies and toddlers. The idea was that they could retreat to that room and still be part of the church service. It proved to be unworkable; crying babies were still disruptive and the parents couldn’t hear the service. (These rooms have since been removed.) Once the sanctuary was built, the old worship space in the original house was renamed Custis Hall in honor of the Keith and Pearl and became Hope’s fellowship hall/meeting space. Before his retirement, Don Stewart and Ed Sheppard worked with the Presbyterian Mission Program to create a program to pay off the various mortgages taken out by the church for the purchase of the original house and the addition of the sanctuary. By the time Don retired in 1996, the church was debt-free.
Diversity has always been important to Hope. Its Session was integrated by gender from the start; very unusual for the 1970s. Hope started as a totally white congregation; just like the neighborhoods from which its congregation came. The neighborhoods were changing, however, and Hope wanted to change with them. We struggled to make it happen until it became obvious that diversity can’t be forced, it must evolve organically. Gradually, a few West African families began to attend and were accepted, not just to worship but to lead and be active in all parts of the church. Most of these families come from Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria. Through word of mouth more began to attend and joined the church, until the minority group has switched. A Christian Women’s Fellowship (CWF) was started at Hope. The group had to fight to be recognized by the parent CWF as being sponsored by the Presbyterian Church USA rather than the Presbyterian Church of Cameroon. They won the battle. The CWF meets every Sunday, takes part in special worship services and conducts a twice monthly processional offertory.
Hope started as a mission and, once organized, missions remained important to the church. Early in the church we had a First Fruits Initiative whereby 10% of all giving and special offerings were given directly to mission projects – sort of a mission tithe. Early on we had a very vibrant One Great Hour of Sharing program. At one point close to $5000 a year was given. We still give to One Great Hour of Sharing, not nearly to that level. Among other notable mission activities through the years are:
- Prince George’s House – once a month we cook dinner and serve it to the residents of PG House, the county’s homeless shelter for men.
- Shepherd’s Cove – each year at Christmas we provide blankets and other things needed by residents of the county’s homeless shelter for women and children.
- Food Pantry – Hope has teamed with Community Ministry of Prince George’s County to provide an outlet to distribute food to those in need in the county. We are now working with the Capital Area Food Bank.
- Rent Subsidy – early in the church we subsidized the rent of a family in need. This program is no longer in existence.
- Christmas and Thanksgiving Baskets – Baskets of food are given to families with limited funds to provide a traditional meal. The Thanksgiving Baskets are still given, but the Christmas ones are not.
- Katrina Relief trip made by Dotty LaPenta and Severine Ekwede to help provide relief and rebuilding for the victims of Katrina.
Hope has had a close relationship with residents of the Collington Life Care Center since its inception. Early on a contingent of residents attended Hope’s worship service weekly, brought to the church and picked up by the center’s bus. At their request, when the church bought new chairs for the sanctuary, several rows of chairs were ordered with arms to make it easier to rise. Even though those residents are now deceased or physically unable to attend, Hope still has a presence at Collington through the Bible Study it conducts there.
Notable Worship/Fellowship Events
Three of the best loved events in Hope Church’s life are the Progressive Dinner, the Love Feast, and the Harvest Festival. The Progressive Dinner was held annually for over 25 years starting before the church was officially organized. It was held at Christmas and consisted of three courses each held at a different member’s home. Each home was decorated for Christmas and everyone dressed up for the occasion. The Love Feast (a very 1970s name) was started in 1975 and held each Maundy Thursday for 40 years. Although some allowances were made for the dinner portion (e.g., butter and leavened bread) the ceremony was taken directly from the Haggadah and followed it closely. In the last ten years once the Seder portion was closed, a stripping of the church ceremony was conducted. The Love Feast was a very dramatic and meaningful worship experience with an attendance of ~90. An interim minister was offended by the Seder portion of the event and stopped it without experiencing it. A current event held each year in November is the Harvest Festival. It is conducted in the West African tradition with an auction included in the worship service itself. This is an auction like no other since it is also a fundraiser for the church. Homemade baked goods can go for as high as $200. It is followed by a buffet of West African dishes.
Other Notable Events
- Three church retreats to Chesapeake Center (since closed)
- Numerous trips to dinner theaters
- Two chartered excursions on the Amazing Grace, a Chesapeake bugeye out of Annapolis
- Multiple St. Patrick’s Day dinners and auctions (these were fun auctions, not of the caliber of the Harvest Festival)
- A trip to Israel in 1982
- Sunday Night Lively – a Stewardship event consisting of a church dinner followed by an evening of comedy skits performed (and often written) by church members.
- International Food Fair – An evening of sampling food from many different countries from Europe and Asia.
- All Night Bash – Under Don Stewart’s supervision, the teens would camp out overnight in Custis Hall. They would also have excursions to go-cart tracks, bowling lanes and paint ball places who would agree to stay open overnight to accommodate them.
- Teen overnights at Chesapeake Center
- Soccer Camp – Held yearly and started under Don Stewart, a certified soccer referee, it was resurrected 10 years ago and held each summer for four days. A light dinner is provided followed by singing and then soccer instruction and scrimmage.
- Vacation Bible School
- Valentine’s Day Dinner Theater – For many years in Hope’s youth, the teens would put on a dinner theater for the adults of the church. With help, they would decorate the sanctuary and prepare/serve a meal followed by comedy skits.
- Yard Sales – Hope has had many of these. Many of the usual yard sale items were sold as well as some not so usual items such as a Karastan Oriental style rug and a small car. A yard sale would often bring in as much as $2,000.
- Founders Day – This was an annual event of the Kettering community. Hope would make and sell tacos. As many as 1,000 tacos would be made and sold at this event. One time an entire roaster being transported to the event spilled into the back of a car giving it a distinctly taco smell for months to come (remember the car sold at a yard sale – yeah, that’s the one).
- Christmas Craft Shows 1982-1985 – All crafts were made inhouse.
- Prince George’s County Fair – For many years members took tickets at the gate (our wages paid directly to the church) and sold ice cream within the gates.
- BowieFest – An annual event of the City of Bowie. We sold ice cream for several years and then had an information booth for several more.
- Donald Stewart 1975-1996
- Kevin Knabb 1997-
- Dorothy Churn La Penta
- Gloria Yi
- Philip Orr
- Karen DeFazio
- William Peltzman
- Edward Sheppard
- Edward Dieterle
- Rita Branic
- Karen DeFazio
Music Directors (* = paid)
- Judy Moore 1975-1979
- Kate Frazier* 1979
- Karen DeFazio 1980
- Kevin Ahalt 1981-1984
- Patricia Diehl* 1984-2012
- Andrew Davis* 2012-2016
- Elaine Kass 2016-present
Other Volunteer Musicians
- Warren Janes
- Karen DeFazio
- Lisa Ramadass
- Judy Kniskern
- Frank Kniskern
- Electronic Piano