Riverdale Presbyterian Church was founded in what today is called Riverdale Park - on February 2nd, 1896. RPC began as an offshoot of the now historic Hyattsville Presbyterian Church growing out of a series of prayer meetings in three to four homes in the village of Riverdale. There were but 22 members at first, but as the 'trolley-stop town' of Riverdale grew, so did the membership of the new Church. The members took out a $1500 loan and built the first building in 6 months (by the current cemetery near the East-West Highway railroad overpass.) The new church experienced severe growing pains to the point of offering the building for sale (to the newly founded Hyattsville Baptists) in 1898! But a new minister and his mother-in-law stabilized the finances, preaching and Sunday School allowing the church to grow to membership of 172 by the close of 1927.            

historical photo

 1920 Building

 

Then a recent graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary named Keith Custis came to pastor Riverdale and, in a way, he never left. For Mr Custis' - as everyone called him - stayed as the pastor of RPC until he retired 41 years later in 1969.

         

             1950                                            1954

 

Indeed, given the size of today's membership and the scope of today's ministry, it is hard to imagine what happened to Riverdale while Mr Custis was its pastor. He came to a small church in 1927, but 36 years later (in 1964) that same Church had 1379 members. The little building in Riverdale had been replaced with the current building in University Park (3 lots at 44th and Wells bought in 1939 traded for current space - sanctuary dedicated in 1950, Education wing in 1954) - which quickly proved to be too small. For attendance of Easter Sundays was regularly over 1200 (at three services) and an average attendance of over 500 fit into the Christian Education wing! Riverdale had quite literally become a 'mega-church' and was one of the largest churches in National Capitol Presbytery.

 

But 1964 was the 'high water mark' for the Church.

 

American writer, David Halberstam, in his popular history entitled 'America from 1920 to 1980', entitled his chapter on the 1960s, "America's Nervous Breakdown" and as the turmoil of the 1960s swept across our nation, so did turmoil sweep across the Presbyterian Church nationwide. The simmering struggle between the theological conservatives (who when it came to Christ's Church looked to the past and tried to only maintain) and the theological liberals (who tended to act as if the Church had no past and wanted to change everything yesterday) - erupted into ugly and revolting open warfare. The battles of 'Angela Davis' and 'The Confession of 1967' were struggles to the death that ended in a stalemate that exhausted the denomination. And as the Presbyterian Church across the nation put so much energy into fighting and therefore had little energy left for ministry, membership began to decline on the national level. And membership also declined at Riverdale Church too. 

Custis Family 1969

 

By the time Mr Custis retired in 1969, membership had dropped by over 300. When 'Mr Mellin' became pastor here in 1970 the turmoil and decline of the 1960s and the shock that followed Mr Custis' long-term pastorate were real problems that needed to be faced. But these problems were not resolved. Indeed, soon things became unmanageable. Some present for worship today remember the 1970s and the 1980s at RPC as difficult and discouraging times. The faith remained good, but oh how the Church struggled with the addition of six new churches within a few blocks of RPC including four new Presbyterian churches, two of which were co-sponsored by RPC. Another 700 members were lost and not replaced, so by 1987 (when Mr Mellin resigned) weekly attendance was 150 and there was no Sunday School before worship. The self-esteem of the Church was low, tensions between factions were high and Riverdale had become a small Church again.

 

The arrival of Reverend David McNeilly in 1988 marked another period of transition and in 1993 membership grew to around 400, the first upturn since 1963. By 1994, the struggles of the 1970s and 1980s finally began to become the past. The shouting stopped entirely and most of the Church's energy returned to ministry and worship and growth with weekly worship attendance nearly 200 with 100 in Sunday School and youth activities.

 

We now look to our future as a community and church with potential for more and new growth and ministry. We work from our heritage as a teaching and learning community in Christ; we remember our history that includes great music and active mission; we embrace our future in God's service.

 

The arrival of Reverend Loril Hawk in 2011 brought us into the future as a community and church with a growing ministry.