You are here

Presbyterian America: Baltimore

July 16, 2019
Baltimore Harbor in 1991, a General Assembly year. Photograph by Ron Rice. Pearl ID: 6277

The Presbyterian Historical Society documents the experiences of Presbyterians from across the country. As part of our series on regional history, here are five stories about the Baltimore area collected by PHS.

Baltimore's first Presbyterian church

Mt. Paran Presbyterian Church is the oldest church in the Presbytery of Baltimore and the first Presbyterian church in Baltimore County, making it site no. 222 on our American Presbyterian and Reformed Historic Sites Registry. Mt. Paran traces its origins to the Patapsco Church, which was established in 1715. Rev. Hugh Conn, the first minister of the congregation, remained at Patapsco until 1719. From that year until the formation of the Presbytery of Baltimore in 1786, there is little information about the congregation. 

Mt. Paran Presbyterian Church and Cemetery, Randallstown, Maryland. [Pearl ID: 112580]

For about 30 years, ministers from other local churches supplied the pulpit. The building, used as a sheepfold from 1815 until the 1830s, was finally reorganized and incorporated as Mt. Paran Presbyterian Church in 1841. There have been religious services held in the current sanctuary since 1841, though the larger Sunday worship services have recently been moved into the Fellowship Hall.

Stated Clerk arrested

Eugene Carson Blake arrested, Baltimore, MD, 1963. [Pearl ID: 3157]

On July 4, 1963, Eugene Carson Blake, Stated Clerk of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA), was jailed in Baltimore for trespassing. Blake and 283 activists from the Council on Racial Equality and the Baltimore Clergymen's Interfaith Committee had challenged the owners of Gwynn Oak Amusement Park to desegregate. He approached the main gate of the amusement park, guarded by police and private security, with African American Presbyterian elder Furman Templeton. Blake was allowed admission, Templeton was not, and all of the protestors were arrested when they attempted to confront the issue.

For more information, read our blog post from 2013 and watch the video below.

Eugene Carson Blake arrested, July 4, 1963. Visit and subscribe to our YouTube page.

The first African American woman moderator

In 1976, the 188th General Assembly in Baltimore witnessed the historic election of Thelma C. Davidson Adair as the first African American woman moderator of the UPCUSA, a predecessor denomination of today’s PC(USA). She received 364 votes on the fourth ballot; John Galbreath of Pittsburgh was runner-up with 307 votes. Adair spent much of her year as Moderator traveling around the world and meeting a diverse array of people. She was in Australia during the formation of the Uniting Church from the merger of the Methodist Congregational and Presbyterian Churches. In Japan she met with Koreans, a minority group there, and felt a connection to their struggle. According to Periscope, Adair worked as Moderator to “identify with the suffering and deprived wherever [she] found them.”

"Thelma Adair is moderator," Assembly News, June/July 1976. RG 147-3-1.

A silent protest

In plenary at the 203rd General Assembly in Baltimore in 1991, LGBTQIA+ Presbyterians and their allies held a silent protest. Introduced by Moderator Herb Valentine, the group marched silently down the center aisle, stood before all in attendance, and began to sing. A video of the protest can be viewed on Pearl.

At the same General Assembly, the Special Committee on Human Sexuality presented two reports, one titled "Keeping Body and Soul Together: Sexuality, Spirituality, and Social Justice," as well as a minority report approved by five of the sixteen committee members. The GA rejected both reports and voted to uphold the “definitive guidance” on homosexuality issued by the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in 1978.

The Special Committee on Human Sexuality was established in 1988 and charged with reviewing the Church's previous statements on sexuality, as well as studying biblical, theological, and ethical perspectives on all aspects of human sexuality. More information can be found in the Guide to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Special Committee to Study Human Sexuality Records, made accessible through the Pam Byers Memorial Collecting Initiative.

Hands & Feet and The Center

Hands & Feet is a PC(USA) initiative to highlight and strengthen local and national efforts to facilitate change and communicate God’s love. The project builds on the work grassroots community organizations, congregations, mid councils, and the national church are already doing. Begun in St. Louis in 2016, the Hands & Feet initiative has shifted focus to Baltimore in preparation for Big Tent this summer and the General Assembly in 2020. Hands & Feet and The Center, a ministry of the Presbytery of Baltimore, have engaged Presbyterians in various projects to serve the Baltimore community. To get involved or find out more, visit the Hands & Feet website. Explore the initiative’s efforts at the 2018 St. Louis GA by visiting their former website via our archives.

Write a history of church