It started as a small prayer meeting in 1952, in the home of Ethel Mossburg. Over time, more and more people started showing up.

The meetings became worship services. The participants eventually acquired some land and constructed a church building.

Five decades later, Hillcrest Baptist Church is still hosting prayer groups and worship services, attracting longtime and new members to its steepled building on Iverson Street in Temple Hills. Sunday's service marked the church's 50th anniversary. For those who have watched their congregation grow from a tiny group to some 650 people, the occasion was a milestone.

Over the years, Hillcrest Baptist, like many churches, has reached out to the surrounding community. It has operated a day-care center, donated books to help refurbish a local library, hosted community block parties and run programs for children and adolescents, among other efforts, said Pamela Redmond, wife of the pastor, the Rev. Eric Redmond.

Along the way, the church paid off its mortgage and opened its doors to missionaries on furlough from their work overseas, offering them free lodging and other necessities.

But perhaps the biggest change members have seen is in their congregation. When it was established in 1955, Hillcrest Baptist, much like Prince George's County at the time, was predominantly white. Today, although there are some white members, most are black, reflecting the county's population.

On Sunday, however, many whites who had left the church and the county returned to celebrate.

The anniversary service felt like a reunion of sorts, said Suzanne Adkins, 49, of Temple Hills, who still attends the church.

"I've been a member since I was 3 years old," Adkins said. "My mother started coming, and then my dad started coming."

Connie Hayes, a former Prince Georgian who lives in New Jersey, said Sunday's service was like a homecoming for her. She and her late husband, a former minister, were members. "My husband became a Christian at this church when he was in the eighth grade," Hayes said. "The men loved and cared for him and nurtured him."

Hayes described the church in the 1980s as diverse and friendly.

She said she looks fondly on the church, which has been there for her and her family in good times and bad. When she and her husband were married, she said, the congregation took her in. When her husband died, the church sent a busload of congregants to his funeral in New Jersey. "We love being part of this church," Hayes said.

She paused to reflect on the congregation and how it has changed over time.

"Christ doesn't look at race," she said. "That's how heaven is going to be."

Connie Hayes, left, holding son Matthew, and LaTasha Hudson, holding daughter Sage, are among the former parishioners who attended the service.Elsie Sampsell, above, a member of Hillcrest Baptist Church for 48 years, stands to accept acknowledgment from the congregation during the church's 50th anniversary celebration Sunday. At right, Richard and Hester Hamilton, standing, and LaTasha Hudson, seated, at Sunday's service. Below, the congregation, which began as a small prayer meeting in a private home, has grown to include some 650 members who worship in a church on Iverson Street in Temple Hills.