I came to the D.C. area in 1977 and have since chosen to make my home here. When I first came here, I lived in Virginia; since then I have lived in the District, Maryland, and then Virginia again. First drawn as a church musician, I became a member of Luther Place Memorial Church in 1977 mainly because of its strong commitment to doing the work of the church: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and preaching good news to the poor. Sure, I could have gone to the nearest Lutheran church in Virginia, which seemed more focused on serving its own members, but Luther Place was no farther (each was about 3 miles from where I lived) and seemed to be much more about doing what Jesus urged us to do as Christians. I have remained a member ever since, for the same reasons. Furthermore, as I became able to accept myself as a gay man, Luther Place played an extremely helpful, supportive, and indeed, central role in my coming-out process.
Donald Smith’s comments (The Mail, 12/24/99) are puzzling to me. Is he a Roman Catholic who agrees with the pope’s dictum that Catholics should attend their geographical parishes? I know many Catholics who prefer to attend other churches. Is his only familiarity with the Christian church as a social club for religious people? That is hardly the message Jesus preached. No, the thing that first drew me and has kept me a member of Luther Place, regardless of my address (did I mention that I once lived in the District?) is Luther Place’s commitment to doing the work of Christ, which it strives its best to do.
I could refute Smith’s comments point for point. For example, the “historic” structures he referred to are, in fact, a dime a dozen in the city. (I am, by training and profession, a historian.) What he seems to ignore is the fact that the church itself is a historic structure. Would he have it torn down in order to remove this “mostly suburban” congregation, which is making a real difference in people’s lives? Would he have us keep G-d in a box on Sunday mornings and not carry out the clear mandate of our Lord the other days of the week? Of course, the church of Jesus Christ is “motivated by…an instinct for survival”—because of the work that it does! There’s nothing “exotic” about that! The mission that Luther Place has addressed in the last 30 years is hardly “half-baked”; just ask anyone who is now an independent, contributing member of society whom we have helped to reject a life of dependence on drugs and other common urban ills. The Bible tells us that there is rejoicing in heaven over the lost sheep who is returned to the fold. This is our raison d’etre! There are hardly enough such services in our society. Who is Donald Smith to claim that “the near-downtown area was already choked with such services”? What does he know of those who froze to death in the mid-’70s, when the people of Luther Place opened its doors to provide a safe haven to prevent such human waste and tragedy? Has he spent a night caring for the mentally ill, drug-dependent, and battered women whom we serve 365 days a year? Is Smith motivated by concerns for his own property values? The beautiful, modern facility that has been erected on the site of a run-down parking lot and dilapidated row houses is making a far better contribution to the city and the individuals it serves than the palm reader and houses of prostitution that once inhabited that block of N Street ever did. How do I know? Because I have been around that block far longer than Smith.
Falls Church, Va.