By Hamil R. Harris, Special to the AFRO
After about 150 years of being a beacon of spirituality and social justice in the Shaw community, Lincoln Temple United Church of Christ will be closing its doors because one of the city’s oldest African American congregations is dissolving.
Lincoln, which has been standing at 1701 11t h Street Northwest since 1868, was established by 10 members of First Congregational Church who left their old church because of their race. Over the years the church has been a venue for some of the titans of Black America ranging from civil rights icons like Julian Bond to opera singers Marian Anderson and Jesse Norman.
But despite its proud history the church has dwindled to less than 20 members on Sunday morning and according to the church’s Pastor, Rev. Barbara Breland, on August 5 members of the congregation voted to dissolve and on September30t h the church will hold a final service.
“The legacy of Lincoln Temple will continue,” said Breland, who framed her feelings in terms of Ecclesiastes 3. “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens. A time to be born a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot.”
Breland, who has been the pastor of Lincoln Temple for the last year, said the church voted to close because attendance at the Sunday morning worship service is down to less than 20 members, the neighborhood has been greatly gentrified and there were few options. “I wish that things could be different but the reality of the moment is here.”
Even though Lincoln is located in a heavily gentrified community, Breland said a leadership committee has not announced if or when will the building will be sold to another church or to a developer.
“This church has a very rich legacy of social justice and improving the lives of African Americans and that legacy will not go away,” Breland said. “For more than 149 years our church has been committed to social justice and during the 1963 March on Washington our church was used to feed people.”
In terms of her personal plans, Breland said that she plans to return to Virginia to plant new congregations because that is what she did before she came to Lincoln. In terms of the final service, Breland said that something special is in the works.
Terry Lynch, executive director The Downtown Cluster of Congregations, said “The story of Lincoln Temple is the story of African Americans in Washington D.C. While it will soon celebrate its last worship service its great work will continue to reverberate in many ways – in the city and nationally given its role in the civil rights movement. Its work lives on surely. “