In conclusion of my personal account of gentrification in the District of Columbia, we will take a look at how our African-American churches have been affected by gentrification. I am a member of a Black church here in the city, therefore, I have witnessed much of how gentrification has affected the Black Church.
The Lincoln Temple United Church of Christ, a historically Black church in Northwest with a proud and impactful legacy, closed in September after 149 years. The church once served as a venue for luminaries such as Julian Bond, Marian Anderson and Jessye Norman, but on Aug. 5, the congregation voted to dissolve after its once-robust membership had dwindled to fewer than 20, my colleague Hamil R. Harris reported.
“The legacy of Lincoln Temple will continue,” said Rev. Barbara Breland, who summed up her sentiments a few weeks ago by citing Ecclesiastes 3:1-2: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot.”
In a letter to the congregation, Jeanne D. Cooper, moderator of Lincoln Temple, wrote: “The following circumstances led to the realization that we no longer are a viable congregation: dwindling finances, low membership, limited resources and engagement, demographic changes within the surrounding community and a undetermined mission and ministry. In light thereof and after considerable discussion, prayer, and a request for guidance from the Potomac Association and Central Atlantic Conference, the church is closing.”
Members voted to work with the Central Atlantic Conference for a period of at least one year to explore the possibility of redeveloping or selling the church building.
African-American residents in the historically Black Shaw-Logan Circle area plummeted from 65 percent to 29 percent from 1990 to 2010, (according to census data), due to the influx of young white millennials. It has changed D.C.’s racial makeup. Gentrification brought more changes: business closures, housing vacancies left by residents who moved away and the packing up of several Black houses of worship. Lincoln tried to cater to residents with establishing itself as an “open and affirming” church for the LGBT community, hosting farmers markets and other events. Though it had to close its doors after dwindling membership and other gentrification-related changes, members couldn’t help but cherish the church.
“Somehow, this church will never die in the hearts of the people,” said Rubin Tendai, who served as the church’s interim minister from 2013 to 2016.
WAMU’s Bill Herndon wrote that Washington’s African-American population dipped below 50 percent in 2011. This downward population trend, coupled with rapidly rising home prices, has created challenges for the District’s predominantly Black churches. With gentrification driving many longtime congregants out of the city, churches are contending with low membership turnout and tensions with their rapidly changing communities that no longer reflect their congregations. While some churches have embarked on an exodus to the suburbs, others say they are determined to stay in the city.
Pastors have been meeting, seeking solutions and lobbying with city leadership for support. Let us all pray for solutions to the loss of our cherished Black churches here in this city.
Lyndia Grant is a speaker/writer living in the D.C. area. Her radio show, “Think on These Things,” airs Fridays at 6 p.m. on 1340 AM (WYCB), a Radio One station. To reach Grant, visit her website, www.lyndiagrantshow.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 240-602-6295. Follow her on Twitter @LyndiaGrant and on Facebook.