Starting in the first decade of the Twentieth century, families from the Washington, DC, area began coming to the shore on the new Chesapeake Beach Railway and on the less-than-perfect roads of the day to build summer cottages. By 1910, the community of North Beach was incorporated. St. Anthony’s Parish was organized in 1905 for Roman Catholics, but the closest Protestant churches were miles away, difficult to reach on rutted dirt and crushed oyster-shell roads in that pre-automobile era.
During that time, the J.D. Timberlake Family from Washington built a cottage on what is now Chesapeake Avenue in North Beach. Mrs. Timberlake, along with her relative Mrs. Appleton Cady, began holding Sunday school classes for local children on her front porch during the vacation season. Adults started attending and hymn-singing was added. At times visiting ministers and lay preachers would bring messages. From these beginnings, a group representing several denominations organized a church.
In July, 1911, the interdenominational “Church in the Woods” was constituted. The new congregation purchased a piece of property in an undeveloped part of town on what is now Frederick Avenue and built a small church. A bell, costing $14.80, and a new $127 piano were added in 1912. This building, which still exists today as a private residence, served as a place of worship for about a decade until the congregation began to outgrow it.
A few years earlier, an anonymous donor had deeded to the church the lot right next to the Timberlake residence on Chesapeake Avenue. The worshipers struggled to accumulate a building fund of $1000 and, in April, 1921, began construction of a new facility. Services commenced in September, 1922. No longer tucked away in the woods, the congregation changed its name to Union Church of North Beach. Though much expanded, that 1921 building still serves as the main structure. The old Church in the Woods bell was placed atop the new building and is there today, still calling the faithful to worship.
For the first two decades, ministers from various denominations traveled to the beach on summer weekends to preach at Union Church. Almost every summer there was a different pastor. At first, the new building was not winterized, but later the addition of a woodstove made possible Sunday school classes throughout the year, though the preaching ministry was still largely seasonal. The two goals for the church were a year-round full ministry with a permanent pastor.
In 1931, the second goal was realized when the church called Rev. W.R. Frame as pastor. He served until 1935, when Rev. J.J. Ringer came to finish out the decade. In the late 1940s and ‘50s, as the beach community attracted more permanent residents, the goal of a year-round ministry was attained.
During the pastorate of Rev. George Sampson, who served from 1946 to 1958, church facilities were improved and expanded. The sanctuary was extended, and additional Sunday school space, a kitchen, and bathrooms were added. A new ceiling, electric organ, and altar rail were among the many improvements. Upon the death of Rev. Sampson in 1958, Rev. H.H. Hoyt was called as pastor. New carpet, pulpit furniture, pews, and central heating were installed.
During the first five decades of the church, most pastors commuted from Washington or other places. But in 1965, Rev. Charles McDaniel, a recent graduate of Washington Bible College, became the first resident pastor. The congregation purchased and renovated a 30-year-old cottage on Dayton Avenue behind the church for the pastor’s housing. Rev. McDaniel and his young family moved into the parsonage before renovations were completed. During his pastorate the church’s programs and physical plant saw many improvements and innovations.
But the church is not just a building; the church is the family of God’s people, and the Union Church family was close and active. Along with worship services and Sunday school were prayer meetings, Bible studies, Vacation Bible School, picnics, dinners, camping trips, adult and children’s choirs, youth activities involving community outreach and fun trips to King’s Dominion, even boat trips across the Bay.
In the 1970s and ‘80s, the church continued to grow under the leadership of Rev. Gary Fruik. By 1975, Sunday school attendance was averaging 90 to 100 children every week, and it was deemed necessary to build an additional structure. The congregation purchased the property adjacent to the church—the old Timberlake residence—and constructed an educational building. It was dedicated in September, 1976. The church’s facilities were also made available to community service groups such as the AA Fellowship, Al-Anon, and others, an outreach which continues to the present.
The 1980s saw continued improvement and beautification of the Lord’s house. On Mother’s Day, 1988, the congregation dedicated the newly purchased stained glass windows, and the next year a new sanctuary floor and pulpit area were installed. That was a major project, accomplished by church members with help from the Mount Harmony Methodist Men and the AA Fellowship Group.
For several years in the early 2000s, Union Church was blest with having Revs. Izear and Pat Tyous as part of our family. Brother Tyous preached periodically and sang in the choir. He and Sister Pat endeared themselves to the congregation.
Pastor Fruik retired in 2006 and for several months our congregation was blest with many guest speakers such as Dr. John Gravely, Rev. Charlie Brown, Josh Young, Evangelist Frank Shelton, and others. Then from 2008 to 2010 the church family grew in numbers and spirit under the leadership of interim Pastor Brad Criss. In January, 2011, Rev. Joe Engel began his ministry at Union Church. It was during this time, in the summer of 2011, that the church celebrated it’s One Hundredth Anniversary, having served this community for the Lord since 1911.
Pastor Engel moved from the area and left Union Church in the fall of 2015. Roberto Sanchez, on the staff of Dunkirk Baptist, led the church to retired minister David Keyser, who first served as pulpit supply, then in March 2016, was called as Interim Pastor, and finally as full time Pastor. Since then, Union Church has grown spiritually and in numbers through the leadership of Pastor David and his dear wife Jeannie, as new ministries have been added to the church’s program.
Our greatest desire as a body of God’s people in this community is to worship and serve Him and to discern His will for us. Lord willing, and if He tarries His coming, Union Church will be a light for Christ in North Beach and the wider community for another hundred years.