I was one of the D.C. residents who opposed the Fellowship Christian Church’s purchase of the Giddings School on Capitol Hill (“Baptism by Fire,” 1/15). Let’s take a quick look at the history of Fellowship on the Hill, and then let’s look at why the church should give up on Giddings School as a base camp and concentrate its search on more affordable property in an area with more
The first Fellowship base camp, at Tyler School, has not been well-received. The church knowingly violated the terms of its use agreement for Tyler School by setting up a major feeding program there (after being told not to by D.C. officials). The church members did no monitoring of the feeding program. They did no cleanup. They swept in from the suburbs, proselytized, fed people, then ran screaming for the nearest Welcome to Virginia highway sign, leaving residents, including me, to deal with the consequences, which included a dramatic increase in Sunday crime and litter. Complaints to the church went unanswered.
Fellowship purchased a corner town house not far from Giddings School, ostensibly as a future home for the pastor or some sort of feeding center. (Residents heard many different stories.) That town house sat dark, empty, and litter-strewn for at least a year, despite complaints from neighbors that the property had become a crime magnet. D.C. is used to neglectful absentee suburban landlords, but most such landlords don’t have the resources nor the tax-exempt status that the church has.
These experiences don’t instill confidence in how the church would work with the neighborhood once it actually purchased a major neighborhood resource and had no incentive to work with the neighborhood.
Capitol Hill has many well-established social service groups, but Fellowship Christian Church doesn’t deign to work with them, despite the fact that these groups know the needs of the Hill community very well and are deeply grounded in the community, with widespread community support. The feeding program Fellowship wants to establish wouldn’t address the needs of the community. Rather, it would be a mammoth, regionwide program with no ties to the surrounding community.
D.C. has many neighborhoods with great social need. Why choose expensive Capitol Hill to set up a base camp? The need for social services is greater in other parts of town, but I don’t see Fellowship trying to create its outreach center there. Why not? Could it have anything to do with the symbolic and political value of having the new center a scant six blocks or so from the Capitol and legislative offices? Fellowship could get much cheaper property elsewhere, directly in the middle of areas where the need is much greater, so its stated goal of helping the needy would be better served by giving up on dreams of Hill grandeur and nationwide visibility and by using the church’s resources to actually help people.
So which should it be? An expensive, high-profile Capitol Hill presence with an easy stroll to Congressional offices and a convenient staging area for political rallies on the steps of the Supreme Court, or actually helping those in need? A quick check of the basic tenets of Christianity would indicate the latter.
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