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Potomac Presbyterian: The Church Next Door

43-year-old church community continues outreach after beginnings in adjacent Potomac Elementary.

Potomac Elementary is more than just a close neighbor to Potomac Presbyterian. It is also where, in 1963, Potomac Presbyterian’s first members met every Sunday. It consisted of 17 families back then, said Dettmar Tietjen, one of the founding members who remains active in the church.

“We went and knocked on doors, and told them we were starting a church,” Tietjen said. “Pretty soon we got a congregation together.”

The congregation itself was considered a mission, Stoltzfus said. A member donated land adjacent to Potomac Elementary, and congregation members in the mid-1960s could watch from Potomac Elementary as the church building neared completion in 1967. The second phase of construction was finished in the 1980s.

KERRY STOLTZFUS has been the pastor at Potomac Presbyterian since 1985. He grew up in the Philadelphia area, and first served as a minister in Knoxville, Tenn., where he served for 15 years before moving to Potomac.

He describes his goal for his preaching as getting congregation to say, “I learned something today, I was moved by what you said and I intend to do something about it.”

“At first the congregation itself would be considered a mission,” Stoltzfus said. As the years pass, and the church has become more of a fixture in the community, the question turns to, “How can we become a mission beyond ourselves?”

Jim Jochum is one Potomac Presbyterian member who has shown many ways of answering that question. For more than five years, Jochum has traveled to Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, China, Vietnam and Mexico on missionary trips. He also went to Gulfport, Miss., in the weeks following Hurricane Katrina last fall, and helped set up a tent facility to house church volunteers who came to the area afterwards. “He’s a very hands-on kind of person,” Stoltzfus said.

Each summer, the church oversees a service project for its high-school students. The students are assigned to repair and refurbish a home for a needy family. “The kids come back from this very enthused,” Stoltzfus said. “It’s very life-changing. … They feel very close with the homeowners.”

STOLTZFUS DESCRIBES the services as fairly traditional and formal, “but I’d say friendly,” he adds. On a Sunday in February, the majority of the members were dressed in “Sunday Best” — dress jackets and ties for a majority of the men. Some services are less formal, Stoltzfus said. Music is provided by an organ and a 10-member choir.

At the beginning of service, children up through grade 2 hear a mini-sermon from Associate Pastor Leslianne Braunstein, then are dismissed to a children’s Sunday school program.

The church also provides facilities for community groups. The Maryland Ornithological Society meets there, as do Al-Anon, boys and girls scouting groups, and Compassionate Friends, a support group for families who have lost children.

Stoltzfus appreciates the congregation’s blend of accomplishment and humility. “With all of the academic expertise … people are very generous with each other and are not parading their credentials,” Stoltzfus said.

THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

Presbyterians are distinctive in two major ways: they adhere to a pattern of religious thought known as Reformed theology and a form of government that stresses the active, representational leadership of both ministers and church members.

Reformed theology is largely based on the teachings of John Calvin, a Frenchman who converted from Roman Catholicism after training for the priesthood and the law. It emphasizes God’s supremacy over everything and humanity’s chief purpose as being to glorify and enjoy God forever.

The Presbyterian pattern of church government rests governing authority in elected laypersons known as elders. Presbyterian elders are both elected and ordained — they represent other members of their congregation, but their primary charge is to seek to discover the will of Christ as they govern.

Women were first ordained as elders in one of the predecessor denominations to the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1930, and in 1956, presbyteries were permitted to ordain women to the ministry.

See www.pcusa. org for more information about Presbyterian theology.

JIM JOCHUM

Six years ago, Jochum started doing missionary work when he went to help in an Ecuadorian surgical clinic along with Tom Hougan, a surgeon and fellow member of Potomac Presbyterian. Jochum learned of a leper residence while in Ecuador. He thought the residents  might not want to see a 6-foot-3, 250-pound American. “I couldn’t have been more wrong,” he said. “They never get visitors.”

At first, Jochum provided the residents with clothing, financial aid and uniforms for the nurses working there. On subsequent visits, Jochum organized an annual picnic outing for the residents, which grew to a 150-person event with a disc jockey and barbecue food.

Since his first missionary trip to Peru, Jochum said, “I basically got the itch to do more.” He has since traveled to Brazil, China, Vietnam and Mexico. In Vietnam, he helped build a home for a group of 10 blind entrepreneurs who grew mushrooms and made chopsticks, toothpicks and brooms. Through six months in Brazil, Jochum worked at an orphanage where he organized recreational and athletic groups for the children, many abused or HIV-positive from birth. After Hurricane Katrina, Jochum went to Gulfport, Miss., and helped set up a tent facility that could house volunteers who came to the area in subsequent weeks. “If you can take a week of your life, 10 days of your life, it’s amazing what you can get out of it,” he said.

ASSOCIATE PASTOR LESLIANNE BRAUNSTEIN

Braunstein was ordained and installed as Potomac Presbyterian’s associate pastor in November 2005.

She was born and raised in the Bronx, NY, and after graduating from Queens College as a sociology major, she worked for 15 years as a law office administrator, first in New York, then in California. It was there, as a member of Hollywood Presbyterian Church, that she began to feel a calling to ministry. “It was a sense that God wanted me to do more,” she said. “My life was great, I was doing good things, and God had more in store for me.”

Even when Braunstein entered the Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., in 1997, she didn’t realize how far she would go in her calling. At Potomac Presbyterian, she oversees the church’s Stephen Ministry, a program in which lay members provide one-on-one care to others in the congregation or community with a variety of life needs. “It really does change the way we care about one another,” she said.