- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2005

The following are excerpts of a sermon given recently by the Rev. Richard L. Sheffield at Georgetown Presbyterian Church:

Tracey Price, who’s been a member for 20 years, put us on record [with The Washington Times]: “We’ve been here 225 years, and we’re going to be here another 225 years.”

When I got here this morning, Mike Flynn of Channel 4 TV was waiting for a live interview on their 9 a.m. news.

As you’ve already heard, the ministry of the Presbyterian Congregation in Georgetown has been recognized by the District of Columbia, both its council and its mayor; by the Congress of the United States, which incorporated us in 1806; and even by the White House.

But not The [Washington] Post. Maybe that’s because we have no proof that George Washington ever slept here. Though I would be willing to argue that since he sent his nephews to our first pastor’s school, Washington probably slept through at least a few of Stephen Bloomer Balch’s sermons.

We can’t prove George Washington ever attended here, but today a letter is on its way here from another George — George W. Bush, recognizing 225 years of unbroken ministry in the “Town of George.”

I did some research. … I’ve discovered that the Georgetown Presbyterian Church was not named after Georgetown. Georgetown … was named after us. At a minimum, no one can disprove that. …

Everyone agrees it wasn’t named after George Washington. In 1751, when Georgetown was founded, Washington was only 19 years old and hadn’t yet done the things that would later get things named after him.

A lot of folks assume, without any conclusive documentation that I can find, that Georgetown was named for George II, the then-king of England. English Gen. Edward Braddock thought so. Braddock, under whom George Washington served, passed through Georgetown in 1755 on his way to a disastrous campaign against the French and Indians, and wrote to a friend:

“Never have I attended a more complete banquet, or met better dressed or better mannered people than I met on my arrival in George Town, which is named after our gracious majesty. The men are very large and gallant, while the ladies are the most beautiful that my eyes have ever looked upon.”

We might want to trust the general’s eyesight. I think he’d say the same today. Just look around. … But I’m not sure we should trust the general’s politics just 21 years before 1776.

So, if not George Washington, and not George II, who? Who was Georgetown named after?

Us. Or more succinctly, George Beall, who was one of us.

George Beall, a Scot and a Presbyterian, who, our records show, was at the founding of the Presbyterian Congregation in Georgetown … rented a pew in the church which gathered formally in 1780, with the coming of its first pastor, and would eventually come to be called the Georgetown Presbyterian Church.

George Beall didn’t want to found a town; his land was confiscated, and he, in his opinion, was poorly compensated. What better joke on history than to name the town founded on his confiscated land for himself. …

What better argument for the provenance of the Town of George than the words of the Apostle Paul to the [church] of Ephesus. Paul wrote to them:

“You are built upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, and Christ Jesus himself is the foundation-stone. In him the whole building is bonded together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you too are being built with all the rest into a spiritual dwelling for God.” …

What matters is whether you and I believe that. And not just that Georgetown was named for George. But that the Presbyterian Congregation in Georgetown has served for 225 years in the name of Jesus Christ. …

According to our “Brief History,” compiled by the Heritage Committee, the stone over Dr. Balch’s grave reads in part: “He planted the Gospel in this town, and his example was for many years a light to its inhabitants.” …

I walked up to Oak Hill Cemetery to pay my respects to Dr. Balch yesterday. The cemetery was closed. I will call again soon. When I do, I’ll be looking for these words on his stone:

“He being dead yet speaketh.” If that is true, it is because the church he founded on faith in Jesus Christ, in Georgetown, “yet speaketh.”

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