Greenbelt Community Church was the Protestant congregation formed when Greenbelt was established as a New Deal planned community in 1937. When the government purchased land to build Greenbelt, it used quotas to ensure religious diversity in the new community. The religious make-up of Washington, D.C. was used to decide the quotas for Greenbelt - 60 percent Protestant, 30 percent Catholic, 7 percent Jewish, and 3 percent other religions. The government did not build any houses of worship, reasoning that the U.S. Constitution guaranteed the separation of church and state.
Pioneer families worked hard at achieving religious tolerance and mutual respect, and social justice. They formed a Permanent Conference on Religious Life in Greenbelt, which continues today as the Greenbelt Interfaith Leadership Association.
For several years, the church met in borrowed spaces. In 1948 the Public Housing Authority advertised sites for purchase for “semi-public” use, for religious entities to purchase for the construction of a house of worship. Greenbelt Community Church purchased the 2.5 acres on which our church now stands. The cornerstone was laid in 1949 and the church opened in 1951. Greenbelt Community Church joined the United Church of Christ shortly after its establishment. The church still has the original lectern, donated by the Jewish Community Center, now Mishkan Torah Synagogue in Greenbelt. Reverend Robert Kinchelow was the first pastor of Greenbelt Community Church.
In 1968, Greenbelt Community Church and St. Hugh’s Catholic Church hosted 700 members of the Poor People’s March on their way to Washington, D.C. Over 150 volunteers provided food, medicine, and cots to the marchers.
In recent years Greenbelt Community Church members contributed to a new roof on Mishkan Torah and the Jewish congregation donated to repair the organ at Greenbelt Community Church.
Primary source of information: Greenbelt News Review, June 28, 2012. “Early Religious Worship Here Showed Group Cooperation” by Sandra Lange.
Story of The Stained Glass Window
The circular stained glass window in the front of our church is dedicated to the memory of Arja F. Morgan. His daughter, Ruth Morgan Raffaeli, wrote a remembrance for us in 2004, so we would know about the man to whose memory the window is dedicated.
Mr. Morgan was born in West Virginia in 1889. He was seriously wounded in World War I in France and lay bleeding in a cold rainy field for three days and nights before being found. Mr. Morgan was given up for dead, wrapped in a sheet, and piled with corpses in a field hospital. Revived by the warmth of the room Mr. Morgan moaned and was found to be alive.
After meeting and marrying his wife, the Morgans moved to Akron, Ohio, to work at the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, and had two children. Later the family moved to South Texas to farm. The Depression and crop failures brought the Morgan family to Greenbelt in October 1937, and Mr. Morgan became a guard at the Treasury Department until his untimely death from a heart attack in May 1944.
Mrs. Raffaeli wrote that Mr. Morgan would be please to see the Dove of Peace that is the focus of the window. He loved his family, nature, and growing flowers and vegetables. The expression in his eyes made him look as if he were always smiling, she wrote, and that the window is a beautiful and gratifying reminder of how much he loved life.