The Peabody Room’s Jerry McCoy — and Its Prize Possession

July 13, 2016

When you first meet special collections librarian and archivist Jerry McCoy, he appears as much a mystery as the materials …

The Patterns of Your Life: Georgetown Lutheran Church

April 18, 2016

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.

Sacred Ground: Celebrating 200 Years at Mount Zion

March 30, 2016

“He is worthy, he is worthy, worthy to be praised.”

The hymn warmed my heart as I walked closer to Mount Zion United Methodist Church on a freezing cold February morning. When I entered the sanctuary, I knew I was in no ordinary church. I was standing on sacred ground.

The architectural design of the oldest African American Methodist church in the nation’s capital was so overwhelming that it became difficult to focus on the hymn. It is clear that Father Time has taken a toll on the halls and the ceiling, but not on the souls of the people. The congregation is a combination of young and elderly. Many of the members are related and their history can be traced back generations — not just to the current building but to the original church their ancestors started in 1816.

Pastor Johnsie Cogman, who came to Mount Zion five years ago, knows all the details of the church’s origins. When she speaks, you can almost see the 120 men and women who grew weary of the racial divide at Montgomery Methodist Church (now called Dumbarton United Methodist Church) 200 years ago.

The vision of their ancestors’ pain is hard to forget, but a moment of reckoning came when Pastor Mary Kay Totty from Dumbarton Methodist arrived at Mount Zion last October. She came to apologize to the descendants of those wronged all those years ago. Pastor Totty presented a crystal dove in remembrance of the past and in hope for their future. Even before the dove’s arrival, the two churches were serving the community together.

There is joy in Cogman’s voice when she talks about the Saturday dinners Mount Zion started providing three years ago. The church collaborates with Dumbarton Methodist and four other churches in Georgetown to feed those in need every Saturday at 5 p.m. The hot meals are served on china with tablecloths and silverware. Those who have fallen on hard times do not drink out of paper cups but sip from glasses.

The coalition of churches will continue to serve the dinners at Jerusalem Baptist until the new kitchen at Mount Zion is completed this summer. This is one of many projects the members are happy to see expand, while celebrating 200 years of love and fellowship.

Cogman and the members are equally excited about the future of Mount Zion after all the fanfare of the anniversary is over.
“We have a lot to be thankful for,” says member and Georgetown native Vernon Ricks. “I was born in Georgetown, but my family was forced out when I was eight years old. My folks could no longer afford to live here when wealthy white families started buying up the area. They bought everything except the churches. By the grace of God we held our ground on the churches.” There is sadness in his voice when he tells the story of walking back from 18th Street to Mount Zion, no matter the weather, every Sunday morning.

Today, there are only a few members who still live in Georgetown. Like Ricks, the families commute to the area they once called home. He has witnessed the church leadership change over and over again. He welcomes the young leaders like Pam Coleman, who has been a member all of her life.

Coleman tells stories about the church, as well as about the cemetery that sits on the hillside a few blocks away, behind Q Street near Rock Creek. Yes, their ancestors are gone on to glory, but their resting place is in despair, like many African American burial grounds around the country. She is sure that one day they will be able to honor their ancestors by repairing these sacred grounds.

Hopeful that people around the country will learn about the Mount Zion she loves so much, Coleman is writing a letter to President Obama and his family to invite them to the final 200th Anniversary service. She wants the president to know their story. There is too much history for Cogman, Coleman or Ricks to remember, as he continues to tell their story.

Mount Zion held a health and wellness fair at the church last Sunday. On the sidewalk you could find the pastor popping popcorn and inviting people to go inside. There are more activities to come, including members participating in the 25th anniversary celebration of the book, “Black Georgetown Remembered,” at Georgetown University Feb. 24. The formal anniversary dinner will be held Sept. 30 with the 200th anniversary Sunday Service Oct. 2.

“Pastor Cogman has a fire inside her that we need at Mount Zion,” Ricks says. It is clear that she is as beloved by the members as the church.

“We are a church that loves God,” says Cogman. “Yes, we have a rich history, but we are moving forward into tomorrow to serve God and this community.” [gallery ids="102252,128871" nav="thumbs"]