Led by a line of African drummers and dancers, Rev. Pharaad B. Massah El, pastor of the Galbraith African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, led a joyful procession Fri., November 30 in the 175th anniversary of one of D.C.’s oldest and proudest congregations.
During the three-hour event at the Camelot in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, the presiding prelate of the AME Zion Church and other leaders made it clear that their branch of Zion, started by slaves and freedmen before the Civil War, will remain a spiritual beacon at 1114 Sixth Street NW.
“This church has been a bastion of salvation for hundreds of thousands of people over a period of 175 years,” Mesah El said. “The church is located on 6th and L Streets. L is the name of God, 6th is the number of man, that’s where man meets God and we don’t intend to leave. We intend to pass what the last generation has given us to the generation following.”
The church leader’s sentiments were clearly on display Friday night as seasoned saints, the grandchildren of founding members and a dais of female church elders spoke, sang and offered prayers of thanks that God had brought them so far by faith.
“One-hundred and seventy-five years. We celebrate all of the pastors and assistant ministers who not only gave us the word of God but set the direction so that we could flourish,” said Gloria D. Owens, chair of the anniversary committee that has been hosting events for the past year.
“We celebrate the trustees, the Sunday School teachers, the choir directors and the congregation who kept us in the right direction,” Owens said. “We celebrate our parents and our grandparents who chose this house of Zion for their children and grandchildren to get rooted in the Word and pointed in the right direction for life.”
Bishop W. Darin Moore, presiding prelate of the MId-Atlantic Episcopal District of the AME Zion Church, used Isaiah 42 in the Old Testament to remind the several hundred people in attendance that no matter how hard things are today, it is nothing compared to the journey that the founders of the church had in 1843 when a group of slaves and freedmen gathered in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Payne to begin a church mission.
“God is in the past, the present and he is standing in the future operating right now,” Moore said during his keynote speech, titled “A Backward Glance at the Future.”
Moore also referenced Isaiah 42:2 — “I will put my spirit on him and will bring justice to the nations” — to compare the conduct of President Trump to that of an unjust king in the Old Testament.
At a time when slavery was still the law of the land, the Colored Masons of Washington laid the cornerstone for the L Street Mission church building in 1853 and the next year the church was named after the late Bishop George Galbraith. In 1885, the church moved to 1114 Sixth Street, where it has been since that time.
In its history, Galbraith has been at the epicenter of the battle for social justice in the city and has hosted and participated in events such as the March on Washington and the District’s first Kwanza celebration. Its congregation has included many prominent community leaders such J. Raymond Murray, past Grand Master of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia.
During the celebration, church leaders also honored its senior congregants, including 90-year-old Marie Feeling Neville.
“I have been a member of Galbraith Church for 90 years,” Neville said. “I was christened when I was two months old and I have been here ever since. I would not have missed this event for the world.”
Brittny Gartrell, who sang several songs during the program, sat at a table with her sister and other relatives because her grandparents, Alexander and Bertice Hamer, were longtime members of the church and the family doesn’t plan to move.
One of the most touching moments during the program came when Lynettra Artis, a local lawyer, thanked church members for giving her a college scholarship to attend Amherst College in Massachusetts. She said the money allowed her to finish school and pay back a student loan, adding that she plans to help other young people at Galbraith get their education.
“My parents joined the church in 1929 and I have been here ever since,” said Owens, adding that despite the blessings there are still challenges the church faces. “We have done a lot in the community. They have tried to purchase our church, placed parking restrictions, but we come right back and God gives us strength to fight.
“We have tried to work with the community,” she said. “We are planning something for Christmas to open the doors [to] the community. We have had so many wonderful occasions in helping the community and there is more joy than trials to keep us there.”