You can’t walk two blocks in Georgetown without passing a church tucked in between the 18th- and 19th-century homes, or beside an upscale boutique or consignment shop. If you stroll further, you’ll see yet another church or a small cemetery next to one of our famous restaurants.
One thing is for sure, when historians write the real history of Georgetown, the places of worship will be featured. This history will include the Lutheran Church of Georgetown, which has occupied the corner of Volta Place and Wisconsin Avenue for 240 years. Georgetown Lutheran is not only the oldest Lutheran church in Washington, D.C., it was founded 32 years before Washington was organized as the nation’s capital.
The original building was a log cabin, erected in 1769, that served as the place of worship until a newer structure was built in 1835. The members worshiped and went to school at this location until the cornerstone was laid for a new building in 1867. In 1919, a faithful member named Daniel Eli donated $50,000 to the church to build the beautiful building that now stands.
The members are as faithful today as they were almost one hundred years ago when Eli made the donation. They showed their faithfulness when they found themselves at a crossroad three years ago and $30,000 in debt to the IRS.
Interim Reverend Dr. Janice Mynchenberg stepped in, to not only help solve their financial problems, but to help mend the broken hearted. Her duties as interim pastor might range from six months to an indefinite number of years. She has been at Georgetown Lutheran for three years, with no regrets.
“When I came here I found that the church was not just broken with financial issues, but with the broken hearted. The members remained faithful to God and to this church, so it was not hard to get back on the road to recovery. I am so proud of the way they not only paid off their debt but … they came together as a congregation.”
In the beautiful sanctuary, Reverend Mynchenberg’s face lit up as she explained their journey back to being a healthy church. “People actually walked by and thought this church was closed to the public and deemed a historical site. People get the wrong idea when things go wrong. They are on the outside looking in. There is life and fellowship in this building.”
She is right about the building and the people that I interviewed after service. The church is filled with members willing to give, not only to the survival of the building, but to each other and their community.
Sara Kaufman serves as treasurer and has a wealth of knowledge about the church she loves so much. She couldn’t resist telling me the history of the beautiful Celtic harp that stands from the floor to the ceiling in the back of the church. The instrument is as beautiful as the sound that music director and organist Pat Henry makes with it during the services.
Ranging from treasurer to music director, they all have so much to give. Giving is what Reverend Mynchenberg’s sermon was about as the members listened with care. “It is harder for a rich man to get to heaven than it is a camel to get through the eye of a needle,” she told her congregation as she talked about patterning your life to do good for God and your neighbor. You have to be willing to give and also live your life in a way that is pleasing to God. When you do wrong, you are separating yourself from God and from the good he has in store for you.
It is clear that her congregation has not separated themselves from God nor from their neighbors. They may have been broken for a season but they are not broken for life. On second and fifth Sundays, the members stay after church and prepare meals for the needy in the community. As they work their laughter fills the cross-covered walls of the sanctuary.
“The crosses are gifts from people around the world,” the pastor told me as I was leaving — which was hard to do as I was caught up reading some of the messages posted beside the crosses. As I looked at the crosses I left knowing that whatever was broken is now restored.