A Brief History of Ascension

The Reverend Charles R. Daugherty, Rector Emeritus

The place of worship known far and wide as “The Church With the Beautiful Garden” is located on Great Mills Road at Essex Drive. It was placed on a wooded lot that was the gift of Herman W. Hewitt Sr. and his son, Herman Jr. The elder Hewitt had been a vestry man at St. George’s Church in Valley Lee for 37 years. He responded to the need for land to build on by a small group of Christians that had been meeting since September of 1949, first at Old St. Andrews Parish Church on St. Andrew’s Road and then in a large room in the Administration Building of the Cedar Park Trailer Park. This trailer Park was owned by Larry Millison and occupied what is now known as Millison Plaza.

Mr. Millison, now deceased, offered this room for our use without cost of any kind for over two years. It was shared with a small Hebrew congregation which observed the Sabbath on Saturday evening and left the premises for the new congregation to use on Sunday morning. Harry Patzig built an altar out of a box. The box was filled with all the essentials of Episcopal worship. During the week it was placed against the wall. Altar Guild Chairman Anita led a dedicated group of early risers in emptying the box, placing the altar where it belonged, and in a half hour a place of singular beauty had been created. Flowers were on the retable, prayer desks, and an altar rail (also built by men of the group) were in place. All was in readiness for seminarians Stewart Labat, Jim Burney and Dan Sapp to arrive from the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria. These men took turns. They got valuable experience and the love and gratitude of the congregation.

To back up a little bit, it took some doing to get the Bishop of Washington, the Rt. Rev. Angus Dun, to approve of the establishment of a Mission Church in Lexington Park. The Washington Area was growing explosively in the years following WWII. Churches were needed everywhere. St. Mary’s County already had seven churches, three of them beautiful Colonial structures and all built before 1900. “They can use the churches in Leonardtown or St. Mary’s City,” said the bishop. “Doubtless they can, but they won’t, Besides, this is where the people are,” replied Roberta Hayden Gough (Lois Gough ‘s mother) and Harry Patzig and others. The bishop finally agreed.

First he sent the seminarians. Then he established the Lexington Park Mission on July 1, 1951. Then he sent the newly ordained Charles R. Daugherty to be deacon in charge, and later the first Rector. Daugherty’s impact was swift. At his first service in the Trailer Park on June 22, 1952 there were ten people. Then next Sunday there were six. From there there was no way to go but up. Ascension was the first of seven units built or strengthened by the Diocese. Ground was broken in February of 1954 by Benjamin Unkle, builder. The first service was on September 19, and the dedication by Bishop Dun was on October 17. The church cost $40,000 and was the gift of the people of the Diocese.

A wing was added in 1968 for the Sunday School and a Family Room was built in 1978. Altogether four years of work parties were given in the process of building the Church, the Sunday School wing and the Family Room.

Father Daugherty retired in 1986 after 34 years. He was succeeded by the Rev. Rona Harding, who recently retired in November 2009. Her fine ministry was marked by an unrelenting emphasis on social outreach.

Remember Lois Gough? Her son Joe was in the first Sunday School and in the first children’s choir in 1953 when we were still in the Trailer Park. Since 1960 the beautiful garden that we glory in has been his baby, his labor of love. He is the only parishioner who was in at creation and is still active. Our Christmas Lights are his gift to the community. Joe retired as our grounds caretaker in 2013.  We are blessed by his dedication to Ascension and the community.

Father Chuck was active in Ascension’s life until he was called by God to join Him in his Kingdom on November 2, 2012.   We are forever blessed by his devotion, Love, kindness, and laughter.

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