In 1649, a Toleration Act was passed in Maryland giving freedom of worship to all Christians and thus making the territory attractive to Presbyterian immigrants. Francis Makemie, a Scottish Presbyterian missionary, arrived in colonial America in 1683 and quickly established several churches on Maryland’s eastern shore. Other Presbyterian congregations soon formed in the Mid-Atlantic region, and by 1704 the new American Presbyterian Church, an association of ministers and elders from about 12 churches, held its first annual assembly in Philadelphia. In 1717, this body divided itself into four presbyteries: Philadelphia, PA; New Castle, DE; Snow Hill, NJ and Long Island, NY. In 1732, the Presbytery of Donegal, PA was carved out of the northwest portion of the New Castle Presbytery; and, then in 1786, Donegal was divided into two new presbyteries: Carlisle, PA and Baltimore, MD.
Presbyterians in colonial America were active leaders not only in their churches, but also in their government. Fourteen signers of the Declaration of Independence were Presbyterians, including John Witherspoon, a clergyman. Quite possibly, American Government, with its courts and representative legislative bodies, was shaped by presbyterian ideas of church government. The first Presbyterian worship held within the the present bounds of the Presbytery of Baltimore occurred in 1713 at the home of Thomas Todd and was led by the Rev. Hugh Conn. A monument at 9000 Old North Point Road, just outside the gates of Fort Howard, commemorates this site. Tradition holds that the Todd house church was the predecessor of Mt. Paran Church in Holbrook.
The Presbytery of Baltimore convened for the first time in 1786 with the Rev. Patrick Allison, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Baltimore, presiding. the Rev. James Hunt, pastor of Bladensburg was present and Captain Johns, was elected Stated Clerk. Other pastors in attendance were John Slemmons (Slate Ridge and Chanceford), Isaac S. Keith (First Presbyterian Church of Alexandria), Stephen B. Balch (Georgetown), and George Luckey (Bethel). The Presbytery extended from Chancford, York County, PA to Leesburg, Loudon County, VA. and from the Susquehanna River to the Blue Ridge Mountains — over 5,000 square miles. The first 10 churches of the Presbytery of Baltimore were Mt. Paran (1715); Churchville (1738); Emmitsburg (1760); First of Baltimore (1761); Piney Creek (1763); Bethel (1769); Frederick (1780); Second of Baltimore (1802); Cumberland (1807); and, Hagerstown (1817). Taneytown, New Windsor, Franklinville, and First of Howard County were founded during the 1820s and 1830s.
In 1837, at the Presbyterian General Assembly meeting in Philadelphia, 40 ministers and 40 laypersons were appointed as the Board of Foreign Missions. Later that year, the Board convened for the first time at the First Presbyterian Church of Baltimore.
Eventually, Presbyterian missionaries were sent to China, Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Cameroon, India, Persia,Siam and other countries. Churches founded during the 1840s and 1850s include First of Bel Air, Govans, Granite, Springfield, First of Annapolis and First of Barton.
In 1848, the first church for slaves in Baltimore was organized: Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church. Prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves were prohibited from owning property; therefore, other congregations and agencies combined their efforts to build Madison Avenue and care for its business. R.G. Gailbraith, the first pastor, energetically evangelized Baltimore’s black community to bring in new members. The Civil War divided Presbyterians as it divided the nation. In 1861, churches in the south founded the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America, and for more than a century, separation prevailed between northern and southern Presbyterians.
In 1983, the two sides reunited to form the current Presbyterian Church of U.S.A. During the 1860s and 1870s, new congregations chartered include Brown Memorial Park Avenue, Fallston, Dickey Memorial and Faith. By the end of the 19th Century, congregations established included Hope, Grace, Catonsville, Hunting Ridge, Maryland, Waverly, Highland and Hamilton. the 20th Century brought Roland Park, Southminister, Lakeland and Barrellville into existence. Then between the 1920s and 1940s, Kenwood, Knox, Cherry Hill and Harundale were founded.
In 1971, several churches were transferred to the Presbytery pf Baltimore from the Potomac Synod of the southern stream: Dickey Memorial, Franklin Street, Kenwood, Kirdridge, Maryland, Mt. Hebron, Springfield, and Towson. The second half of the century welcomed Perry Hall, Havenwood, Northminster, Trinity, First of Westminster, Covenant, Christ Our King, Good Shepherd, St. John United Methodist/Presbyterian, Brown Memorial Woodbrook, Christ Our Anchor, Ark and Dove, the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, and New Life Korean Church.
Today, the geographic boundaries of the Presbytery of Baltimore stretch from the mountains of western Maryland to the Chesapeake Bay and, in addition to Baltimore City, include nine counties: Allegany, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Washington. Within these bounds are 68 Presbyterian congregations with a combined membership of approximately 16,000 parishioners.
Administratively, the national Presbyterian Church U.S.A. is organized into 172 presbyteries which are grouped into 16 synods. The Presbytery of Baltimore is part of the Synod of the Mid-Atlantic located in Richmond, VA.In turn, every church in every presbytery is governed by its own “session” which is a group of “elders” who, with their pastor, serve as leaders of the congregation. Elders are elected by the congregation for three-year terms.
To learn more about how Presbyterians govern themselves, go to http://www.pcusa.org/navigation/whoweare.htm.