The history of Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church goes back to the early 1950s, when the Rev. A. Powell Davies, the progressive Unitarian minister of All Souls Church in Washington, organized a committee to spread Unitarianism to the rapidly growing suburbs of the District of Columbia. A group of All Souls members who lived on the Maryland side of Washington found space for religious services in temporary buildings on the University of Maryland, and the College Park Unitarian Center, as it was then known, held its first service on October 17, 1954.
At first, Rev. Davies acted as minister of the College Park center, and his sermons were piped into the Maryland gathering via telephone line. Over the next few years, College Park attendees formed a governing board of trustees, a religious instruction program, and incorporated the group as an independent congregation. In 1957, the center called its first settled minister, the Rev. David Osborn, a few months before Rev. Davies died of a heart attack.
Church growth in the early days was rapid, and in 1960, the congregation purchased a five-acre site on Powder Mill Road in Adelphi, a few miles from the University of Maryland. The center needed a name change because it had moved outside of College Park, and the congregation voted to rename itself after the Paint Branch, a nearby stream that is part of the Anacostia River watershed.
Construction on the new site began in 1963, and in early 1965, Paint Branch moved into its first permanent structure (now called the Religious Exploration Building). Services were held in the largest room in the new building, with RE classes in the other rooms and church offices on the lower level.
During the 1960s, many Paint Branch members joined the cause of civil rights, with Rev. Osborn and others attending the 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 Freedom March on Montgomery, Alabama. Music, arts and social groups also flourished among the congregation, which reached a count of 261 active members in March 1967—with a "School of Religion" enrollment of more than 300 children.
In 1970, Rev. Osborn departed Paint Branch for a church in New Jersey. The following year, our congregation called the Rev. Richard Kelley, who would serve us for two decades and still holds the title of Minister Emeritus. (The Kelley Room in the RE Building is named after him.)
Congregational activities during the 1970s spanned the range of societal concerns of the era, and included the establishment in 1975 of an ecumenical Women's Center, one of the first of its kind in Maryland. In 1977, Paint Branch joined the Community Ministry of Prince George's County, which organizes overflow homeless shelters in church buildings during the cold winter months.
Paint Branchers started talking about constructing a separate building for adult services as early as the late 1960s, but financial struggles put that dream on the back burner for some time. Still, in the 1980s the money and the plans came together, and our Meeting House, joined to the original building by an accessible wooden deck, opened in 1991.
The Rev. Rod Thompson served as PBUUC's third settled minister from 1992 to 1998. During his time here, Paint Branch went through the self-examination steps to become a Welcoming Congregation to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons. Many church members took an active role in GLBT equal-rights issues during this time.
In 1999, PBUUC called a married couple, the Revs. Barbara Wells ten Hove and Jaco ten Hove, to serve as co-ministers. Four years into their time with us—in the early morning hours of December 9, 2003—a fire tore into the rear half of our RE Building. No one was in the building at the time, fortunately, but it was a mess.
Our insurance covered the basic repairs and replacements, but we held a capital campaign to pay for improvements that were not part of the original 1965 building, including a wheelchair-accessible bathroom and a geothermal heating/cooling system to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. The RE-building, as we called the project, was mostly complete by the time we celebrated the 50th anniversary of our congregation in October 2004.
In 2009, the Rev. Diane Teichert began serving as our minister. As we head toward our 60th anniversary in 2014, we are a warm, open, nurturing congregation with a strong tradition of "thinking globally, acting locally" in our social justice efforts. We invite you to join us in this journey.