National Presbyterian Church has evolved through four congregations since its early beginnings in 1795. The church's rich heritage reflects the contributions Presbyterians have made to our city and the nation for the past 200 years. According to church publications, most of America's presidents have attended services at National Presbyterian or its predecessor congregations.
Of course, the successful ministry of these congregations is based not on the involvement of the prominent, but on the faith, courage, and vision of many thousands of people throughout the church's history.
The church's tradition of faith goes back to the early years of the White House's construction when the stonemasons held worship services on the grounds of the Executive Mansion. By 1795, the group had grown large enough to form St. Andrew's Church. After the resignation of its pastor in 1802, a small group persisted, meeting at several places between 1802-1811.
Members from the St. Andrew's group officially established First Presbyterian Church in 1812. The church was located where the U.S. House of Representatives stands today. By 1821, the church had 114
members and continued to grow. In 1853, Rev. Byron Sunderland began a 45-year tenure as senior pastor. Sunderland is most notable for beginning to preach in favor of the abolition of slavery- which was a courageous act in a city that was essentially a conservative Southern town. In 1866, Rev. Sunderland allowed Frederick Douglass to speak from the church's pulpit when no other church in Washington would do so. In the early 20th century, commercial development began to lead to the dispersement of the members of First Presbyterian.
Meanwhile, this same urban growth gave rise to many other Presbyterian congregations. With 53 charter members, The Church of the Covenant was organized in 1885, flourishing with strong lay leadership and pastors. By 1928, membership had grown to 1,800 and the pastor at the time, Rev. Charles Wood, became the first president of the Washington Federation of Churches.
In the mid-1920’s First Presbyterian Church’s property (along with the whole street) was taken by the city of Washington -District of Columbia, under eminent domain, for a new court system complex. In 1930 the congregation under joint agreement merged with The Church of the Covenant, to form The Covenant-First Presbyterian Church. In 1946 by act of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) the congregation became The National Presbyterian Church of the denomination.
The cornerstone of the present day National Presbyterian Church was laid by former President Eisenhower on October 14,1967. The congregation first worshipped in its new home on September 7,1969. The year 1969 also marked the opening of the National Presbyterian School, a private institution that has grown to serve preschool through sixth grade.
Today, we believe our mission as a church is to lead people to become faithful followers of Jesus Christ together in God's world. We are committed to discipleship, to community, to service, and most importantly, to a deep and abiding faith in Christ.
The Ervin N. Chapman Memorial Archives contain an extensive collection of historical records, documents, photographs et al., dating back to the 1795 inception of the church. Arrangements can be made for study of the materials. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment with the Director of the Library and Archives. Some items available for viewing include:
- historic and current church records
- baptismal and marriage records, and
- session minutes.