D.C. Church Makes Long-Awaited Move, But Leaves City

After years of not having parking or the ability to expand in D.C.’s Petworth community, members of the Rock Creek Baptist Church have moved to a new home that sits on 25 acres in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.

Rev. Jeffrey L. Mitchell Sr., pastor of the 144-year-old congregation, even chimed in with the praise team Sunday as they sang “How Great Is Our God.”

Rock Creek has tried for nearly a decade to find a new home after it became clear that there was no way to grow at their old home at 8th and Upshur Streets NW.

“This is a major blessing,” Mitchell said. “We have parking, we have space, we have classrooms for learning, we now have enough room to do multiple things at once.”

Mitchell, who has led the church for nearly three decades, said the church attempted to remain in the city but ran into opposition from District officials and community leaders.

But John-Paul C. Hayworth, the outgoing Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, said while parking is a major problem in the area, he nevertheless was surprised to learn the church had finally sold the property and was moving.

“I live four doors down from the church and I didn’t know until I saw the sign go up,” said Hayworth, adding that he was particularly bothered that the church allowed the building be torn down. “They put in a provision that the church would be demolished. The developer didn’t do that.”

Rev. Jeffrey L. Mitchell Sr., pastor of Rock Creek Baptist Church (Hamil Harris/The Washington Informer)
Rev. Jeffrey L. Mitchell Sr., pastor of Rock Creek Baptist Church (Hamil Harris/The Washington Informer)

But Reginald Haynie, chairman of the deacon board at Rock Creek, said the church had no choice but to move on.

“They would ticket us on Sundays and parking became more restricted,” Haynie said. “My vision now is to share God’s word with everyone because we are in the middle of everywhere.”

Rock Creek is just latest African-American congregation to leave the District in the past four decades. Ebenezer AME, Jericho City of Praise and Metropolitan Baptist Church were all large D.C. congregations that moved to Prince George’s County as real estate prices rose, paving the way for gentrification.

The old Rock Creek sanctuary, which was located at 8th and Upshur streets in Northwest, was recently demolished to make way for four new row houses that will each hold two units. According to several sources, each unit will cost about $600,000. The Petworth News reported they the church got $2.2 million for the project.

Trying to find a new church home has not been easy. In January 2005, Rock Creek Baptist Church acquired 77.69 acres of land in Prince George’s County, where they had planned to build a new church, a senior’s living facility, a school and a youth center.

But Mitchell said the church was forced to halt the project because funding could not be secured amid the collapsing economy.

Then, a few months ago, church officials learned that a 24-acre campus — complete with a gym and school — was on sale at 6707 Woodyard Road.

Rock Creek has had several locations in its 144-year history. The first was in Tenleytown, the second in Foggy Bottom, from 1941 to 1956. The third location was purchased at 4201 Eighth Street, where they remained from 1956 until this past October.

Sandy Tate, a member of the trustee board at Rock Creek, said she is thrilled that her church is just a few minutes from her home.

“We are so used to driving to D.C. and dealing with parking, but 85 percent of our members live in Prince George’s County,” she said.

Tate says that every Sunday, the church shuttled about 30 seniors from the Petworth community to the new sanctuary, including 102-year-old Edna Adams.

Evelyn Mitchell, first lady of Rock Creek, said, “We knew that God, in his own time, would be doing a new thing.”

But the pastor modified his wife’s comments.

“God is not doing a new thing, we are just doing it in another way,” he said. “The community is the church. There is a spiritual need out here.”

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Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the Greater Washington Area. Hamil has chronicled the Million Man March, the Clinton White House, the September 11 attack, the sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the campaign of President Barack Obama and many other people and events. Hamil is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of the Washington Post where he writes a range of stories, shoots photos and produces videos for the print and online editions of the Post. In addition, he is often called upon to report on crime, natural disasters and other breaking issues. In 2006 Harris was part of a team of reporters that published the series “Being a Black Man.” He was also the reporter on the video project that accompanied the series that won two Emmy Awards, the Casey Medal and the Peabody Award. Hamil has lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the American University, the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia. He also lectures several times a year to interns during their semester in the District as part of their matriculation at the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities.

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