Churches of DC
I am a DC native. I have grown up, gone to school, worked and played throughout its four quadrants for the last 35 years. However, it wasn’t until recently I began to take notice of some of its most ubiquitous structures: its churches.
Being raised in a church-going household, and having attended many weddings and funerals in town, I have entered at least a dozen of these houses of worship, some on a regular basis. Yet it wasn’t until I started working downtown near Metro Center that I began to notice just how many we have dotting the landscape. I began to see churches I never noticed before. One by one, they started popping into my awareness, previously hidden in plain sight, despite existing for decades or even centuries. Most are prominently placed on corners, others nestled in the middle of blocks, and some even tucked inside office buildings. The kinds you spot when walking to a new restaurant, or exploring a new route home. I could not believe just how many churches there are packed into this city, particularly downtown!
One of the most handsome and historic is St. Patrick’s Catholic Church across from MLK Library. It’s the city’s oldest, founded in 1794. Two blocks away, Calvary Baptist and Greater New Hope Baptist seem to stare each other down, catty-corner at 8th and H Streets. Walk a couple more blocks and you find St. Matthew Cathedral, Grace Church and even Sixth and I Synagogue. There are at least 12 houses of worship within the same half-mile radius of the Metro Center/Chinatown area, representing various denominations and cultures.
According to a 2015 study by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), Washington, DC has 857 religious locations within the city limits. That’s a lot, considering how small DC is. It explains why I constantly encounter them walking through Shaw, Capitol Hill, Dupont, or up Georgia avenue or North Capitol Streets. Everywhere I go there they are, ensconced in residential and commercial areas alike.
From the majestic arches and buttresses of the Gothic-styled National Cathedral, to the Byzantine dome and Romanesque tower of the Basilica, all the way to the humble box-like Community Holiness Church on K Street, this city has sprouted all manner of religious homes to meet the spiritual needs of its residents.
Gentrification has been sweeping the nation and DC has certainly felt the profound impact of its influx of new residents. According to local news, growing secularism among the population has posed increasing problems for many of its religious institutions. Parking difficulties in the more congested neighborhoods has only made matters worse. These developments are all the more reason to stop and take stock of what we have here. If you find yourself out for a walk in DC, keep your eyes open for some of these places, these features of our architectural heritage.
Guest Blogger: Roy Kelly