The pilgrims had followed the ox-drawn cart nearly three miles under the hot sun.
They walked past wooden barns and white picket fences, up gentle hills along the shoulder of Port Tobacco Road until the sweat began to darken their T-shirts.
Their church was in sight, but the greatest challenge remained: crossing Route 301.
"We're all going to die," one person shouted. "They're going to run us over."
"I haven't tried to walk across this road since high school," another added.
"This is so weird," said a third.
But the police held off the cars, the two 3,000-pound oxen forged ahead, and the procession of more than 60 members of Christ Church in La Plata finished its Saturday morning journey.
Marsh Kordack, 47, had flown in from Massachusetts to participate in "Moving the Stones," a procession that marked the 100-year anniversary of the dismantling of Christ Church in Port Tobacco and its relocation stone by stone to its site on Charles Street in La Plata.
Kordack threw up his hands as he strode up to his former church, where his mother, Verna, one of the organizers of the commemoration events, was watching.
"Mom, we made it!"
In 1904, the trip to La Plata was probably a much more difficult affair. Nine years earlier, a new courthouse had been built in La Plata after a fire decimated the Port Tobacco courthouse, so members of Christ Church, which had stood since the late 1600s, mobilized to move the building to "where the people were," said the Rev. Joseph W. Trigg. It cost $950 to dismantle the Aquia sandstone blocks and move them in several ox-cart loads to La Plata and an additional $3,850 to rebuild.
Church members had little time to appreciate their new neighborhood in 1904. Just two years later, a basement furnace sparked a fire that gutted the interior and destroyed stained glass and portions of the walls. It was one of several natural disasters that have befallen the resilient Episcopal church in its more than 320-year history, according to a written chronicle of the church compiled by current parishioners.
Before the move, in 1808, a fierce windstorm knocked down the log church. By 1884, a brick building built as its replacement had been worn down by the elements and was torn down. More recently, in 1983, the church's Gothic bell tower in La Plata was struck by lightning. The tornado of 2002 tore gaping holes in the roof and destroyed nearly all the windows in the church, but spared all the stained glass. Last November, 40 cubic yards of raw sewage flooded from an open pipe into the church's basement.
"It's survived an awful lot," said Joe Plemons, 74, a junior warden at the church.
Christ Church is also known for the historical prominence of some of its members. Thomas Stone, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was a parishioner. So was Gustavus Brown, President George Washington's physician. The church's 15th rector, Lemuel Wilmer, who was in charge for 47 years in the 19th century, was also a rifle-toting chaplain for the Union troops during the Civil War. When Wilmer, who presided over a congregation sympathetic to the Confederacy, prayed for President Abraham Lincoln, those gathered were known to stand up and stamp their feet. A marble altar at the front of the church now bears Wilmer's name.
For many current and past parishioners, the commemorative walk Saturday was a chance to tell stories about the church and celebrate its role in the community.
John Newcomb, 46, was baptized, confirmed and married in Christ Church, before later moving with his wife to Odenton. He served as acolyte for 15 years, he said, and his marriage marked the first time the thundering pipe organ was played in the church.
He said his mother, Kathryn Newcomb, cared deeply about the church and its history. She had been a member for 85 years until her death last year. He comes back now whenever there is a special event.
"The history, my heritage, my mom . . . it's just a very special place for me," he said.