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  • A Brief History

    Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church, located in Baltimore’s historic Bolton Hill neighborhood, was dedicated on December 4, 1870. Construction had been funded by a gift from Isabella McLanahan Brown, who wished to honor her late husband, George Brown. Mr. Brown, son of investment firm founder Alexander Brown, was a businessman and civic leader who “regarded religion as preeminent above all other things and loved his church with all the ardor of his noble nature.”

    The church’s first pastor, from 1870–1884, was John Sparhawk Jones. Maltbie Babcock served as pastor between 1887–1900. A popular minister, he was also a poet. Shortly after his death, one of Babcock’s poems was published as the familiar hymn “This is My Father’s World.” In 1898, Brown Memorial’s liberal policy of permitting the church to be used for “good objectives” led to it being the site of the statewide meeting of the Maryland Temperance League.

    Brown’s active role in the life of the city was expanded during the ministry of T. Guthrie Speers, from 1928-1957. Speers ended racial segregation within the church and abolished the system of pew rentals. He also established an outreach program to Baltimore’s Jewish community and periodically exchanged pulpits with local rabbis.

    John Middaugh became pastor in 1957, a time of change and upheaval. As Baltimore urban renewal got underway, the church helped the renters on Linden Avenue negotiate with the city, which wanted to tear down their homes.

    The church’s pastor was also active in the Civil Rights movement. On July 4, 1963, along with Rev. William Sloan Coffin, Rev. Marion Bascom, Rabbi Morris Lieberman, and hundreds of demonstrators, Rev. Middaugh was arrested in a clash with police at Baltimore’s Gwynn Oak Park over efforts to desegregate the popular amusement park.

    Rev. Middaugh was a regular panelist on the weekly television program “To Promote Goodwill,” an interfaith discussion of social and religious issues that was broadcast internationally on the Voice of America, and later appeared on “Faith to Faith,” which featured religious leaders comparing and contrasting their faiths.

    Under Brown’s current pastor, Andrew Foster Connors, the church continues its involvement in issues of social justice and peace. Rev. Foster Connors has also taken an active role in dialogues between the Jewish and Christian faith communities.

    The church’s music ministry has a long and distinguished history. From 1936-1946 (with a leave of absence to serve in the Army during World War II), the celebrated Virgil Fox was simultaneously head of the organ department at Peabody Conservatory and organist at Brown Memorial. He subsequently became organist at New York City’s famed Riverside Church. Internationally renowned organist John Walker, our present minister of music, reversed that trajectory. Walker was director of music and organist at Riverside Church (and also at Shadyside Presbyterian in Pittsburgh) for many years before coming to Brown. Walker is on the faculty of the organ department at the Peabody Institute and serves as national vice-president of the American Guild of Organists.

    In 1956, in response to the migration of large numbers of city residents to the suburbs, part of Brown’s congregation decided to build a church in Woodbrook, north of Baltimore. Other members wished to remain downtown in order to continue Brown’s presence in and involvement with Baltimore City. Brown functioned as one church in two locations, with one set of ministers, Elders and Deacons, until 1980, when the two congregations voted to separate. The original Bolton Hill church is now known as Brown Memorial Park Avenue (BMPA).

    With its vaulted ceiling and unparalleled collection of eleven original Tiffany stained glass windows, Brown Memorial Park Avenue is considered “one of the most significant buildings in this city, a treasure of art and architecture” (Baltimore Magazine). The church underwent a $1.8 million restoration between 2001–2003.

    Photo of interior © James G. Howes

    isabella brownIsabella McLanahan Brown Brown Memorial in the 1930s After restoration