"We've seen Georgetown through the better, the worst and back to the better again," said 86-year-old Fred Pimper, the oldest member of Georgetown Presbyterian Church, the oldest church in Georgetown with continuous services.
Pimper and more than 125 other local Presbyterians were on hand Sunday to celebrate the congregation's 200th anniversary with a reception, open house and retelling of the history of the church, now located at 3115 P sT. NW.
That story closely parallels the history of Washington and the nation.
The 15 founding members of the "Presbyterian Congregation in George Town" first met in 1780 in a log German Lutheran church near what is now Wisconsin Avenue and Volta Place NW. They moved to their own building on Bridge Street (now M Street) in 1782 and the church was chartered by Congress in 1806. President Jefferson signed the document.
"Back then they still rented pews to members and they had a quaint way of keeping people up to date," said Dorothy Shaffter, a longtime church member who helped tell the church's story at the Sunday gathering.
"If someone didn't pay, his name went up in the narthex . . . and the member who collected the back rent got a percentage."
When the building was rebuilt in 1821, President Monroe was on hand when its cornerstone was laid. When the church moved to P Street -- then called West Street -- in 1873, President Grant led the ceremonies.
During the Civil War, the church operated a "colored Sabbath School" and "Colored Day School," according to the church's own published history. After the battles of Manassas and Fredericksburg, the sanctuary was converted into an army hospital and pews become beds for 400 soldiers, both Union and Confederate army members. A "deed house" was also set up in the church yard.
Unlike many of Washington's other very old churches, the membership of Georgetown Presbyterian has dropped off only slightly from its high point of 700 in 1970.
Its current pastor, the Rev. Campbell Gillon, brings a certain expertise to anniversary celebrations. Last year, Gillon led his former church, Cathcart Old Parish, near Glasgow, Scotland, in celebrating its 800th anniversary.