Brown Downtown Turns 150: Stories of Faith & Hope

By Gayle Barney


Since April 2020, as part of our 150th Anniversary Celebration, a team of six has been working to bring history alive at Brown Memorial. This group has been interviewing long-standing members of our faith community and pastors and writing their stories. We call our project Brown Downtown Turns 150—Stories of Hope and Faith. So far, at least a dozen people have been interviewed; but there’s more work to do. It takes time to develop the story and make sure it is reflective of the storyteller’s intention. Each story has become a very special message about faith, caring, action and hope.


I have had the honor and pleasure of reading all of these stories as they are finished. The stories take us back in history but also help us look forward to our shared future and goals.


Our stories tell who we are. Talking about his Baltimore Presbytery examination in 2013, Tim Hughes Williams shared the following—“I had no idea that Brown Memorial had packed the house for this meeting, although in retrospect it was a very ‘Brown’ thing to do. I continue to be so moved by that moment—a clear sign of solidarity from people who did not know me yet. They were there because it was the right thing to do.”


Our stories are informative. According to Peggy Obrecht, speaking of the early 1950s, “We had communion only four times a year; and it was served to us in our pews by the elders—all of whom were men. Since the church had seats in the transepts, that was a huge area to cover.”


Colleen Bowers’ story about auditioning for Gene Belt made me laugh. “I played the flute all during my public-school years, but didn’t know anything about vocal music. So, when Gene asked me to sing on the alto line during the audition I had to ask, ‘Where is the alto line?’” Colleen concluded, “Now, 40 years later, I’m still singing with the choir.”


Talking about mission for youth, Chrystie Adams expressed her honest assessment on making time for commitment. “The kids who go out with us to Minnesota and to Soaring Eagles learning camps see things in a different light—a changed viewpoint. I am glad for those opportunities, but I wish I could get more of Brown Memorial involved in the actual activity. It’s difficult for people to make that commitment.”


Our stories are motivational. Roger Gench, speaking on race, acknowledged that, “We need to get inside of black rage so that it is palpable to us and put our bodies in places where we are not comfortable…We need to understand that racial trauma, both past and present, for both blacks and whites, is central to the American experience.”


Julie Hanks reminds us about our witness to faith and justice. After Brown Memorial and Woodbrook went their separate ways, “even though the Brown congregation faced financial stress, the congregation continued to be engaged in the community-both locally and globally. The Session authorized that an additional family from Cambodia would occupy one of the two existing apartments on the third floor of the Church House. In 1982, a family from Kenya occupied one of the apartments.”


As I have listened to these voices tell their stories, I am reminded of a quote by Rev. Elaine Blanchard, a professional storyteller—“Stories build bridges. When the story ends and the teller’s voice is silenced, the bridge between the teller and listener remains.” These personal narratives have certainly made me feel closer to all these Brown storytellers and the messages they convey. I know the interviewers and writers feel the same way just by their comments to me along the way. And those who have shared their stories have expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to do so.


So, Here’s the Good News:

We are going to begin releasing a few stories this fall and into 2021. Look for them in the church e-newsletter “This Week @ Brown” each month. Later in 2021, you will receive your own personal copy of the story collection.


We look forward to celebrating all these powerful, rich stories with all of you, whether you have been around or are relatively new in our community. Plan to read and listen to the voices of Brown. Let the stories tell you the history. More importantly, let the stories be your bridge to others as we continue looking forward, building our community of hope and faith.