It’s Friday night. The sanctuary is filled with sounds of live jazz. The 300 chairs are almost full. Downstairs people are enjoying fried fish, mac n cheese and sweet tea. This is one of Westminster’s impacts on the Southwest DC community—an uplifting experience every Friday affirming that “God loves jazz.”
Much of the soul of Southwest DC was wiped out during the urban renewal (aka Negro removal) of the 1960s. The jazz ministry was part of Westminster’s vision of a Southwest cultural renaissance. Jazz Night was started in 1999 and has happened weekly since then. Blue Monday Blues was added several years later.
The $5 admission to these popular weekly programs allows DC’s many fine musicians to play and be paid. It also serves many seniors and others on fixed incomes. A significant contribution goes back to the church’s operating fund.
Started in 1853, Westminster was originally an all-white congregation. It now has a multi-cultural, multi-generational focus averaging 65-75 in worship. Though small in number since the period of urban renewal, the growing congregation has been bold and progressive in its thinking. In the early 80s it became the first congregation in the Presbytery to openly welcome the LBGT community. It started a meals program for those home-bound with AIDS. That ministry eventually outgrew the church and is still a well-known DC non-profit today. The jazz, blues, catering, and other ministries have filled the impact gap left behind.
Over time community ministries evolve in relation to the needs, gifts, and available partners, but Westminster’s commitment to making a real impact is always there. Now the congregation is in the process of leveraging the value of its land to carry out a redevelopment plan in partnership with two private development companies. The main goal is a new debt-free church building and 120 units of affordable housing. This should happen within the next 2-4 years.
These consistent, large-scale and well-done projects could not happen without talented partners, the hands-on work of the co-pastors and members, and a congregation seeking to be the Beloved Community. Be in touch!
Revs. Brian and Ruth Hamilton, Co-Pastors since 1996
Westminster Presbyterian Church, Washington D.C.