Guest Editorial: D.C. Churches Beware!

As members of the community are aware, New Commandment Baptist Church recently sold their building at 625 Park Road to relocate outside Washington. I’ve been following this development as information has become available.

Today, I am including a guest editorial from Rev. Stephen Tucker of the New Commandment Baptist Church in which he addresses the difficulties churches face if they remain in Washington, including parking stresses which have been noted by others. He also addresses a snag the church discovered that was attached to a District grant that was later cancelled.

Below is Rev. Tucker’s editorial (click on image for larger, printable version):

D.C. churches beware

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17 Comments on “Guest Editorial: D.C. Churches Beware!”

  1. Byron Says:

    Oh no. A church that pays no property taxes, caters primarily to a Maryland-based congregation and whines about parking despite being located near two Metro stations and a dozen bus lines is leaving the city. Don’t see why this is a problem.

    (By the way, New Commandment was never a great neighbor either. I lived on that block of Park Road right next to that church for three years. To wit: during the twin snowstorms in 2010, they had their lot plowed, and then shut the gate to neighbors who were struggling to dig out their cars or find places to leave their vehicle in the midst of a citywide emergency. All while their congregation jams up that street once a week with double-parked cars bearing Maryland plates.)

    I, for one, am very glad they’re leaving and that the property will be developed into something revenue-generating for the city.

    • Stephen Tucker Says:

      Someone once said it’s fruitless to respond to ignorance, but in this case we’ll make an exception. First of all, the congregation’s profile was that 70% of the membership lived in zip code 20010 & 20011….not Maryland. Those members from Maryland brought in their incomes to pay for servicing the DC community. Never a great neighbor??? Where were you when the food was passed out and toys provided for Christmas and clothes given away and people kept from being evicted from their residences, and jobs obtained by local residents. Where were you when the church held job fairs for only Ward One residents? The reason why the gates were locked (they were not always locked) had more to do with putting a lid on drug transactions in the parking lot and vandalism and not with being a “bad neighbor.” Go ahead and admit it….you knowledge of God, the church, the beloved community and life itself has been wrapped around money (the tax issue) so long that all you see is what might be “revenue generating.” Yes….indeed the “love of money is the root of all evil.” With folks like you infiltrating the community you might want to consider the opposite side of the coin….they’re glad to be gone!

    • Shawn Says:

      Happy birthday Byron! hahaha

  2. d Says:

    What specific parking policies are contributing to their leaving, and how, specifically, are they contributing?

    If the answer is (basically), it’s harder for our congregants to park for free in public spaces, well then I have zero sympathy. I’m assuming Pepco, Washington Gas, and DC Water don’t provide utilities for free to the church, so why should the city provide parking for free? If parking is a necessary “utility” than the congregation should pay for it the way it pays to heat, cool, run lights, etc. The city already allows it to avoid paying property taxes (but it still gets the benefits of roads, emergency services, etc).

    To the best of my knowledge there is no divine right to parking nor do I believe that driving a car to church is somehow part of God’s commandments. If congregants from Maryland, who pay no taxes for DC municipal services and upkeep to the roads they use to drive on, don’t like having to pay to park at their church, and refuse to take metro, then maybe the best course of action is to move the church nearer to where the congregants live and presumably where there isn’t the premium for parking that comes from existing in a dense, urban area.

  3. K Says:

    Is the city promoting policies to bring predominately non African American congregations into the city? I don’t get the reference or the lack of any specifics on how DC is taking things away other than limiting the freebies on tax payer dollars.

    This church and others in the area are located in a fairly dense urban area with an abundance of public transportation options. This appears to be an attempt to shift blame to a 3rd party instead of accepting that somebody with decision-making power entered into an agreement with the city.

    I sign a lease on an apartment with a fee for early termination then I am obligated to pay the penalty associated with it. I don’t get an exemption if I don’t feel like staying there through my term.

  4. kyle Says:

    Kent and Rev. Tucker,
    I would be interested to learn more of the details about the termination of the grant. I understand the terms were probably simplified to a readable version for this blog post, but the account in this letter seems too simplistic. Grants typically have a disbursement requirement or cancellation clause that would indicate more information than I’m getting from above.
    It would seem to me that there was likely some condition of the grant money that was not met, otherwise the city would not be asking for the money back.
    I do have sympathy for the church having to leave their home of many years, and hope that this issue can be resolved quickly.

  5. Jason Says:

    blaming gentrification your church has to leave;;;;more race baiting… I am not sure Jesus would approve of such racial division….good bye pastor peddler ….

  6. Nick the Greek Says:

    I wish more churches would leave the city. I live in Shaw where there are a multitude of churches. They pay no property taxes and take up parking on Sunday mornings. When neighbors complain, they force the city to find parking for them. They tear down houses and buildings leaving scarred parking lots that they don’t use to their full capacity. They have ‘rented’ space from the school system only to pack the dirt on playgrounds so hard that the kids can’t play on it (try playing on concrete and see how fun it is). Then they offer the kids free bus rides to playgrounds on the other side of town. They offer demolition by neglect on historic buildings and hold onto properties until they are condemned. Churches are NOT good neighbors.

  7. […] It’s tough being a church here: “City policies, legislation and practices are pushing houses of worship, particularly African American churches, out of the District of Columbia” (Park View) […]

  8. JoeEsq74 Says:

    The churches did hang on in DC providing services when DC was in poor shape. For many seniors who live in DC church is their primary if not only social outlet. Some of those churches serve meals as well . Some churches do great work others not. Communication and common courtesy between neighbors are important. Members of the various congregations should be courteous and follow parking rules, PERIOD. A few residents could use a lesson in courtesy. No one should approach any neighbor, church or otherwise, and think they can tell that neighbor how to use their property. If you reach out to a church and this is the tone of the contact then expect tension to follow. I am district resident I lived down the street from a church for 10 years. Parking would be an issue but the church also was gracious and allowed use of their space for community meetings and other forums / events. Note: Many of the Maryland churchgoers go fill DC restaraunts on Sunday after church.

  9. Adriana Says:

    I live in Mt Pleasant, and I am resentful of the out of towners that take up all the parking and congest the streets on the weekends. Worse, the parking Nazis look the other way when they park illegally. How is that fair?

  10. caitb Says:

    As someone who spends 40+ hours per week dealing with grants on behalf of nonprofit organization, I would advise the writer that writing a letter like this might be cathartic, but it was probably unwise (or at least in bad taste) to make it public.

    Grant agreements can be massively long contracts and difficult to understand, even with lawyers on your side. Government-related grants can be especially tricky and laden with legalese. Moreover, to protect public funds, they are always weighted to the benefit of the government entity above the private group.

    However unwieldy those contractual agreements are, they do serve to lay out the checks and balances that protect what are ultimately public – tax payer – funds. The caveats and guidelines of a grant agreement protect us all – as the public – from frivolous or improper uses of our collective funds.

    It is unfortunate that the organization’s plans changed so drastically that it was unable to adhere to its obligations as a grantee, but those difficulties do not mean that the organization is relieved from its role as a vigilant trustee of public monies. Rather than write a (somewhat inflammatory, in my opinion) editorial, it would be wiser to continue to negotiate with the funder entity.

    If all is done truly in good faith, there is bound to be a mutually agreeable compromise which both respects the grantee’s efforts, and protects public funds from waste.

  11. DCent Says:

    So many thoughts and questions about this. (1) As best I can tell, the money only has to be paid back because the church is leaving DC. Stay here and that problem goes away. And shame on you if you didn’t read the agreement you signed with the city. And if it was clear that the first disbursement was caught up in politics, why would you spend it all so quickly? (2) The pastor responds to a post above with the claim that 70% of the membership lives in 20010/11. So what’s the problem? Seventy percent of the membership is within walking distance or short bus/Metro rides and presumably many of them have cars with zone stickers that would allow them to park on the street with no problem. And between the church’s parking lot, two hour free parking, and metered parking, this issue should not be so unbearable to uproot 70% of your membership which is in a small radius of the church and force them to drive to MD. Something here strikes me as disingenuous. Church rolls are notoriously inaccurate. Membership isn’t the question, attendance is. And even more important than attendance is who’s giving. Pastor Tucker, there is no way in the world that you are moving to MD if 70% of your attendees and contributors are living in 20010/11. Either your bread and butter is in MD or you’ve outgrown your sanctuary and have your sights set on laying the groundwork for your megachurch. By the way, you purchased that property from another church that managed to relocate, grow, and develop within the boundaries of DC. (3) To the extent that there is a lack of parking, that isn’t only an issue for churches. The people who live around you have those same struggles… and they LIVE there 24/7. Nowhere in your comments did I read one suggestion on how to address parking, gentrification, development for all. And let’s not forget that that development and gentrification is going to net you a pretty penny for the church property. (4) And along those same lines, you toss out an accusation that African-American churches are being driven out of the city… the implication is that white churches or Latino or Asian churches are not. And what of mosques or synagogues? What is this targeting of black churches that you assert? And how are other houses of worship managing to make things work? As clergy you have a responsibility to speak clearly and truthfully and yet this all reads like you’re mad you have to fork over $300K… PERIOD. And don’t tell me how committed you are to those people around you when you’re ready to leave them because of “parking.” Perhaps you do care about them, but you care about something else a lot more.

  12. DCent Says:

    And one more question… Pastor Tucker, do you live in DC?

  13. I just moved to the neighborhood and I feel that attendance is a big issue along with there are fewer new members to the churches. Since the African American population is dwindling, Its sad that both sides can’t get along. One feels helpless with an onslaught of people who I believe are Bigoted and vote along the same lines but can’t come together on complex issues. Education and Poverty are the causes as to why we are experiencing these circumstances. As a financial aspect the churches don’t generate any revenue for the city. As a Human standpoint which I value more the churches value more stability and nobler causes for the surrounding area and it benefits African American and Latino citizens.

    Me being a very small percentage of African Americans who move into gentrifying areas I feel for the less fortunate Afro Americans who have to move. I wish that more of my Caucasion brothers understood that voting along the same lines doesn’t solve the problems and that revenue generating for the city isn’t always the answer because the Human element for compassion is left out. When people say that its divisive, here’s my example

    When we moved in there were Four community organizations two in Petworth two in Columbia Heights one Black One White. The Black organization was there since the 50’s. From what the organization stated it reached out to the new neighbors years ago and instead of joining they made their own organization. Another thing, Why are there two Markets in Columbia Heights? One for Afro Americans a Flea Market style and one for Whites Organic Markets? That doesn’t help the matter.

    History will repeat itself because one side feels threatened and the other side accepts its fate and moves on. The Churches knew not to fight and to leave the city, The Latino churches statistically have already left or share buildings with Afro American Churches. It doesn’t make sense for Petworth and Columbia Heights Residents to go work non profit organizations in Rwanda and South Sudan and ignore the problems in their own NEW neighborhoods.

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