By Hamil R. Harris, Special to the AFRO
Lincoln Temple United Church of Christ was filled with people and tearful emotions on Sunday when hundreds came out to be part of the final service of a congregation that has stood in the Shaw community for about 150 years.
Despite its proud history, which includes being a venue for civil rights veterans, opera singers and hundreds of couples who got married there, the church dwindled to fewer than 20 members and on Aug. 5, members of the congregation voted to dissolve.
“I got baptized here, I was married here and I buried my father here,” said Debra Knight, 56, who was one of several hundred people to attend the service last Sunday. “When I learned that this church was closing I burst into tears.”
From Knight to 101 year old Catherine Gaines, many current and former members came back for the three hour service where people sang songs ranging from “Lift Every Voice Sing,” to “Hold To God’s Unchanging Hand.”
A plethora of ministers from across the city took part in the service; one soul was baptized, and the entire church took part in responsive reading that chronicled the church’s rich legacy and various ministries.
“Even if you are not at Lincoln Temple there is still work out there,” said the Rev. Barbara Breyland in her sermon. “There are women out there being sexually assaulted, we gotta vote. There are people who are homeless who don’t have jobs, they can’t get health insurance, we have work to do.”
Breland and members of her congregation called their final service a “Celebration of Transition” that marked a sad milestone for a church founded in 1888 and has been located at 1701 11th St. NW for most of those years.
During the Civil Rights Movement the basement of the church welcomed, housed and fed civil rights workers for the 1963 March on Washington and the sanctuary held concerts that featured opera singers such as Marian Anderson and Jessye Norman.
Michael Hargreaves, chair of the Diaconate at Lincoln, said, “We have this beautiful building and we are not sure what we are going to do with it, but we hope that the right mission partner will come along and helps us to redevelop the building in alignment with our mission.”
But J. Houston, 49, a Bowie resident who grew up in Lincoln, was not ready to say goodbye.
“The hardest part of this is that the people who build the condos and populate the dog parks don’t know what they are doing,” Houston said. “They are displacing an entire community.”
The Lincoln building earned a place on the National Registry of Historic places in 1995. The structure, built in 1928, was designed by architect Howard Wright Cutler using the Italian Romanesque Revival style.
In a letter to the congregation, Jeanne D. Cooper, the 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 an 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. “
During the repast after the service, former church members held reunions and nibbled on finger foods, but Catherine Gaines, 101 just sat at a table and accepted hugs as the church’s oldest member present.
“It’s been a very sad day for us, one that is hard to believe,” said Gaines who has been a member of the church for more than 50 years. “Lincoln taught me about believing in God and how he will work with you, if you work with him.”
Gaines said she doesn’t know where she will worship next week. During the service nearly a dozen pastors stood in front after the sermon to welcome potential members to their congregations.