By James Wright, Special to the AFRO, [email protected]
The District of Columbia’s branch of one of the largest Protestant denominations in the United States is making an effort to engage residents and become more visible in the city.
The DC Baptist Convention (DCBC) is an umbrella organization for more than 200 churches in the Washington, D.C. area, with the District as a hub. The Rev. Andre Towner is the DCBC’s community engagement director and his charge is to see that the organization becomes more proactive in the District of Columbia.
“We are trying to help congregations get out of their home worship places and into the neighborhoods,” Towner told the AFRO. “We have been involved in various community projects such as feeding programs and providing resources to those in need.”
DCBC is affiliated with the American Baptist USA, the Southern Baptist Convention and the predominantly Black Progressive National Baptist Convention. It includes 75 Black churches, such as Shiloh Baptist Church, Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church, and the Temple of Praise. The DCBC was founded in 1877, with its roots going back as far as 1802 and the founding of what is now known as the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington, D.C. First Baptist has had a predominantly White congregation but had many Blacks worshiping there during the 19th century.
Towner is a 20-plus year military veteran with a bachelor’s degree from Jackson State University and master’s degrees from Wesley Theological Seminary, George Washington University, and Wayland Baptist University.
He said the Black churches in the DCBC have had a major impact. “They have helped our organization become responsive to the issue of race,” he said. “The convention has always had a role to play in regards to race. It played a role in educating former slaves and it also provided loans to build churches when financial institutions would not.”
Towner said the DCBC is working to see “that everyone has the chance to reach their God-given potential.”
“We are working to see that there is more affordable housing, job opportunities and better schools for everyone,” Towner said.
Towner is a regular at the monthly Anacostia Coordinating Council (ACC) meetings. The ACC is a member-driven organization that advocates on behalf of the residents of Ward 8. Towner said the DCBC’s participation in the ACC is critical to its growth in community advocacy. “ACC has proven to be a good partner for us in that regard and we can help it in terms of reaching out to churches,” he said.
Philip Pannell, the executive director of the ACC, embraces the DCBC’s participation. “Rev. Towner consistently attends our meetings and the District of Columbia Baptist Convention has joined the ACC and has given us a contribution,” Pannell told the AFRO.
Pannell said Towner is a candidate for the 8E04 advisory neighborhood commissioner position on Nov. 6 general election.
Working within the community and aiding those who need it are the DCBC’s aims. In 2019, Towner said his organization will expand its reach to a Ward 7 community organization. “We want to make sure that all of our congregations are civic-minded,” he said. “We want to be a voice for change.”