We live in a dynamic city, and one of the constants of this or any city is change. However, not all change is to everyone’s advantage. Take bike lanes, for instance. As The Washington Post has noted, bike lanes have become the latest symbol of the ongoing friction between the irresistible forces of gentrification and the immovable object of community.
Advocates claim that bike lanes won’t prevent anyone from attending church. I would invite these advocates to apply the brakes as they zip past the United House of Prayer for All People at Sixth and M streets Northwest on a Sunday. They would see many elderly and disabled worshippers who simply can’t attend services unless there is plentiful and convenient parking.
While biking advocates celebrate the ascendance of this mode of transportation for environmental purposes, what about the environment it creates that is less than ideal for the elderly and for those dressed in their Sunday best? As gentrification creates a culture shift in parts of D.C., it is important to be sensitive about existing cultures and realities.
Worshippers making their way across the street shouldn’t be asked to dodge speeding bikes. A culture of community cooperation and co-existence is sorely needed. Many of the bike lane advocates represent recent waves of professionals taking up residence in Washington, D.C.
As leader of the Greater Washington Urban League, I welcome their arrival, but I would also like to remind them of D.C.’s storied and treasured culture of black churches.
The House of Prayer, for instance, affectionately known as “God’s White House,” has been holding annual mass baptisms by firehose since the 1920s. Brass bands and spirited preaching mark these festive occasions. The church, its leadership and its parishioners have always provided much-needed meals and other services to the less fortunate, in addition to Sunday school and Sunday worship. It is not just woven into the fabric of the community; for many people, it is the fabric.
As the redevelopment of Washington rolls along, let’s seize this opportunity for dialogue and compromise, for newcomers to discover the heritage of their city and the families who have lived here for generations.
I’m sure the churches would “extend hospitality to strangers” (Romans 12:13), but I’m not sure it’s fair to expect them to make the greater sacrifice.
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George H. Lambert Jr. is the president and CEO of the Greater Washington Urban League.