Ascension’s early history evolved through those colonial years when in the New World the Church of England was first established on Maryland’s shores in the late 17th Century.
In 1695, when Prince Georges County was created, the western half was designated as Piscataway Parish. In 1723 the Parish was divided and St. John’s Parish was begun. In 1726 another division took place and Prince Georges Parish was established. It embraced the District of Columbia, and the following counties: Frederick, Montgomery, Washington, Garrett, Allegheny and part of Carroll. It was 90 miles long. St. Paul’s Church (originally know as Rock Creek Church) was the Parish Church from 1726 to 1830 when Christ Church, Rockville was designated the parish Church of Prince Georges Parish.
In 1880 the Vestry of Christ Church appointed a committee to build a chapel in Gaithersburg. Members of the committee were Judge David Griffith, G. Fenton Snouffer, Henry Miller and J. Sprigg Poole (who donated the stained glass window in memory of his mother, Rebecca Poole). The ground for the church was donated by a brother and sister, John T. and Sarah Ann DeSellum, whose farm, Summit Hall, lay south of the spot on which the church was built. The Chapel, which is a meeting house style of architecture, was completed in 1882, and was the beginning of Ascension Chapel.
The activity in the Chapel seemed to have had a rather slow start – with the first recorded service of confirmation conducted by the Rt. Rev. Dr. Perry, Bishop of Iowa, in 1884. The next recorded service was not until 1885 when the Rt. Rev. Dr. William Paret consecrated the Chapel and
held another confirmation service.
In 1953 J. Stewart Labat was appointed Curate at Christ Church with responsibility for the Chapel in Gaithersburg. In 1955 the congregation voted to separate Ascension from Christ Church and become a Diocesan Mission. Mr. Labat stayed on as Vicar of Ascension and in 1956 he also became Rector of St. Bartholomew’s, Laytonsville.
Since that time, Ascension has seen several “firsts”:
- In 1965, when Ascension Chapel became a parish church, the Rev. Harry B. Dalzell, who had been Vicar since 1957, became its first Rector and served until 1974.
- From 1972 until 1974 Jay Alan Hobbs was the First Curate under the Diocesan Parish Internship Program.
- The Rev. Hobbs was the first Episcopal priest to be ordained in Gaithersburg in February 1973.
- The Rev. John Rabb, also under the Diocesan Internship Program, served as the first assistant Rector from 1976 until 1979, becoming Priest-in-Charge following the death of the Rev. Dalzell. Rev. Rabb later became Suffragan Bishop of Maryland in 1998.
- The Rev. Carole A. Crumley, the first woman priest to serve Ascension was Interim Priest until the arrival of the Rev. – William Smalley in September, 1980.
- The Rev. Smalley served as Rector until 1989, when he was consecrated Bishop of Kansas.
- The Rev. David Rider was interim rector from 1990-1991 when the Rev. Joseph M. Clark was elected Rector.
Meanwhile, the Gaithersburg area was growing rapidly, and Ascension Chapel was also growing in membership.
In 1971, the interior of the church was remodeled to provide more space and to expedite communion. The altar was moved forward from its original position against the wall under the window to the center chancel. The organ was moved from its place in front of the nave behind the altar. The choir loft was built and paneling put in. The choir pews, which had been on both sides of the front of the nave toward the center aisle were removed and pews, which had come from the Silver Spring Hebrew Congregation, via the Old George Lutheran Church were installed with new kneelers. The new altar was put in to extend the width of the nave instead of being the width chancel. The rail now accommodated 17 communicants instead of seven.
Over the years the number of Sunday services were gradually increased from one to three. Finally in 1982 the congregation moved into a new and larger facility that was built on the lot adjacent to the Chapel. The Chapel interior was subdivided into offices to accommodate the Rector and growing office staff.
The Church of the Ascension continued its rapid growth in membership. Sunday School classrooms and administration facilities were desperately needed, and in 1992 a new wing with classrooms and office space added to the new facilities. The Parish office moved out of the Chapel into the new office space in 1999.
Ascension Chapel, now over 100 years old, was in need of extensive repairs. The foundation was beginning to crumble and the entire building had a definite list to one side and was in danger of collapse. Additionally, there was considerable termite damage. A major overhaul was necessary if this Gaithersburg landmark was to be saved.
After major repairs, the Chapel was put back into service in 2003. A new foundation was built. The interior was gutted and new insulation, wails and flooring were installed. The siding of the Chapel was replaced and new wiring, plumbing, heating and air-conditioning added. The Chapel has now been converted back into a place of worship. The old altar and communion rail, which were saved from the original Chapel have been reinstalled. Instead of pews, individual chairs have been used so that they may be placed in different configurations, as desired.
The Church of the Ascension is grateful for the many generations of faithful people who have worshiped in this space and preserved it for future generations. We welcome anyone who seeks a closer relationship with God to join us for worship in this historic space, or in our main sanctuary.