Kensington Baptist Church: One Hundred Years of Memories

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One hundred years ago, in the “Roaring Twenties,” while the Jazz Age blossomed and prohibition was in force, a Godly woman named Ida Simms led in enlisting 27 charter members to form a new Baptist church. The faithful group purchased two lots on Dupont Avenue and erected a tent. The Rev. Frank Farley and the Rev. H. Nicoll led services. Nicoll became the first pastor — unaware that 100 years later, Kensington Baptist Church (KBC) in the Town of Chevy Chase, just a short distance from the nation’s capital, would still be alive.

But KBC members are alive, and they celebrated their anniversary on October 16 with fanfare, worship, thanksgiving, food, fellowship, and a hundred years of memories.

100 years ago Kensington Baptist Church began meeting in a tent. (photo courtesy of KBC)

The service began with a brass quintet playing “Feierlicher Einzug” by Richard Strauss/Max Reger. Translated, the title means solemn, ceremonial, or festive. As the brass played, the congregation processed into the sanctuary, and then they observed the “chiming of the hour.” A handbell choir presented “A Day of Celebration” by Brian Childers. Longtime member Barbara Bryant shared history highlights. Others gave short presentations. BCM/D Church Services Consultant Dr. Randy Millwood shared the message, “Charge!” encouraging the church to persevere.

Millwood, speaking from Matthew 16:13-18, referred to Jesus’ disciples being emotionally spent and physically exhausted. They had been “substantially spiritually stretched. “Jesus recognized this in them and pulled them away for a retreat,” Millwood said, explaining that the location was at the headwaters of the Jordan; a place where archeologists have found evidence of lots of different religions retreating; and within sight of Caesarea-Phillipi (a place that represented the world power of the time). In that setting, Jesus asked the broad question—‘what is the word on the street?’ Then, Millwood said, “He zeroed in on, ‘what do YOU say?’ Based on the profession that Jesus is the Christ — the very DNA of God — He (Jesus) would build His (Jesus’) Church (called out ones). And that church would be able to face any challenge the world, the flesh, or the devil might offer.

“The promise is made to a church that is attacking the gates of God’s enemies.“ Millwood explained that gates are not offensive weapons. “Gates are what you hide behind to protect what you have.” Millwood challenged the congregation that at 100, it’s understandable they could look back on it all and feel a little weary. It’s also tempting to hunker down and protect what has been built to this point, he said. “However, hear Jesus say to His church…to This church — CHARGE!”

Members and guests, some of who returned after many years for the service, enjoyed a catered lunch together. All left with a history booklet that included “A hundred years of memories,” which contained submitted memories from present and past attendees. Most of the memories were centered around fellowship and the loving church community.

Brett Jones and Julie Smith serve as greeters at Kensington Baptist Church’s 100th-anniversary celebration. (photo by Sharon Mager)

They Began in a Tent

With majestic trees older than their stately building on Connecticut Avenue, Kensington Baptist Church has come a long way from the early tent-meeting days. In 1926 they erected a frame church building, and by the following year, their attendance swelled to 119. They purchased a parsonage in 1940. By 1947 their membership was over 300, and they constructed a brick annex. They planted their first church, Viers Mill Baptist Church, in 1949. Two years later, KBC built a second annex and used a nearby firehouse for additional classroom space. Their pastor preached two worship services each Sunday morning. By 1954 their Sunday school membership exceeded 700, and the church sent out its first missionary, Everett Hanas, to Germany.

In 1955 members purchased the site of the current building and dedicated it 1956, with membership now reaching 600. It hit a high of 1,192 in 1968. But by the later 1960s, people began to move away from the District of Columbia, and attendance began to decline as affordable homes were less available. The face of DC and its suburbs was changing tremendously, both economically and ethnically. First Korean Baptist Church had its first worship service and other early services at KBC in 1974. This church was later called Global Mission Church and is now one of the largest Korean churches in Maryland/Delaware and the nation.

Kensington Church used space at a nearby firehouse for classrooms. (photo courtesy of Kensington Baptist Church)

In 2002, KBC called William “Bill” George as the pastor, and George led for two decades. He led the church through a time of discerning Biblical purpose, values, and vision and a “dreaming process.” During George’s tenure, KBC continued to pivot to respond to the changing community and diverse population. The church prayerfully became a hub of international ministry. They offered English as a Second Language (ESL) and later citizenship classes and hosted immigration conferences. Also, at least three other ethnic churches began to share the building.

Music Director  Craig Teer led the congregation in singing through the entire Baptist Hymnal, a project that took them four years. George smiles as he shares that some of those hymns were more difficult to sing than he anticipated. The church also hosted classical music concerts for the community.

George, with his wife Diane “Di,” an extremely active and dynamic leader, retired earlier this year. They remained at the church as active members and were instrumental in preparing the centennial celebration.


The Rev. William “Bill” George peruses the churches roll book, which lists births, baptisms, deaths, and other life events. (photo by Sharon Mager)

Over the past 100 years, Kensington has assisted in planting seven churches, including Viers Mill Baptist Church. Others they planted were: Colesville Baptist Church; Ashton Baptist Church; Georgia Avenue Baptist Church; Calverton Baptist Church, Colombia City Baptist Church; and Rock of Salvation Church. They’ve sent four to the mission field, including the areas of Germany, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines, Japan, and the Korean people groups locally, nationally, and worldwide. The church has also been active in local missions and ministries. They started a women’s care and share ministry, supported local shelters, visited nursing homes, started various outreach clubs, and continually, generously shared their church space.

William “Bill” George with his wife, Diane “Di.” The couple have served the church for two decades. Following Bill’s retirement earlier this year, the couple will stay as active church members. (photo by Marilyn Stone)

The church’s mission statement, looking to the future, is “Forging New Paths.” George said, “KBC’s Dream Statement, adopted in May 2021, really refines what “Forging New Paths” means. Our world is constantly changing. If we set our eyes on Jesus and stay grounded in the good news of Jesus Christ, then KBC will be open and inclusive with all welcome to attend, join and serve.’ We gather to worship and grow as disciples so that we can go out and forge new paths letting our light shine. The journey continues as we serve out the Christian faith in all of the communities that we reach and touch. The world is watching to see if what we say and do are all the same.”

Intentional Interim Pastor Gayle Clifton said, “Kensington Baptist Church has such a rich heritage of ministry and mission for the gospel of Jesus Christ. The flame still burns today in the hearts of the people of the congregation as they begin the next 100 years of faithful service for the Kingdom of God.”

Featured image (provided by Kensington Baptist Church) early days of Sunday school classes at Kensington Baptist Church.