How do you celebrate Easter Sunday at St. Matthew’s Cathedral? With more. “Oh no, it won’t be regular,” says Monsignor Ronald Jameson, describing this coming Sunday’s musical accompaniment. “There will definitely be more: more instruments, more choir members, more polyphonic music.”
“It’s an extremely important feast day,” says Jameson. “We do it up.”
There will also be more people. “Other than Good Friday itself, it’s the most crowded day of the year,” reveals Jameson. “At the 10 o’clock and 11:30 [a.m.] services, people are literally standing on Rhode Island Avenue.”
Big turnouts are a common theme among the mainstream faiths. “We can seat about 385 people, and we usually get pretty close to that. We also get overflow from the [National] Cathedral,” says Jane Volkema, parish administrator for St. Alban’s Episcopal. “We make room; everybody just sits a little closer together, although we have to go by [the] fire code.”
That means things are going to be a little tight on Sunday. It might be hard for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, but it will be even harder to find a parking space in Georgetown. Once inside a church, you’re likely to wind up shoehorned between crying babies and old ladies with no clear view of the ecclesiastical action. And when it comes to getting that post-service cup of coffee, you had better hope they borrowed those carafes from the marriage at Cana.
But it’s OK. There are alternatives.
And here, we’re not talking about the traditional tabernacles. Washington, D.C., is full of churches. There are Catholic churches, Episcopal churches, and Orthodox churches—not to mention the mosques, synagogues, and gurdwaras.
However, D.C. also supports a rich community of alternative Christian faiths. You’re probably not familiar with these places. Many of them were founded within the last 30 years, and they do things a little bit differently. They have projection screens instead of icons. They meet in living rooms instead of cathedrals. They experience transubstantiation via grape juice and Wonder bread. But they can still get you right with God. And come Easter Sunday, they won’t leave you standing in the street.
But which one of these churches will fit your spiritual needs? Are you a Secular Humanist or a Swedenborgian? Are you a Spiritualist or a Seeker? After visiting more than 65 of the District’s houses of worship, the Washington City Paper has developed a helpful game to get you on the road to unlimited devotion.
Experience the mystical with only a nominal level of commitment. Here, deities are optional, and you’re never far from a fancy bistro or a smoothie.
Flow Yoga Insight Meditation Meeting
For $10, a weekly Mindfulness Meditation class at Flow Yoga Center, 1450 P St. NW, will help you focus on the present and cultivate an awareness of your surroundings—which happen to include a wine shop and a Whole Foods. Before you get too involved, however, you’ll have to fill out Flow’s full complement of liability paperwork. By signing the bottom line, you’re holding Flow harmless in case you accidentally dislocate your “mind-body process.”
Washington Ethical Society
Rock Creek Gardens
Maybe you’re ready for church—just not the God part. If that’s the case, you should have no qualms embracing the Washington Ethical Society, 7750 16th St. NW. Members of this secular “Intergenerational community of love” seek “a supreme way of being” rather than “a supreme being.” While attending the services here, you’ll find your mind cleared by the hum of crystal drone bowls, delighted by songs like “The Rainbow Connection,” and enlightened by team-building exercises like the “energy circle”—in which congregation members squeeze hands to pass a pulse of human energy around the room.
Why not try a proven path toward alternative enlightenment? D.C. has a couple of old-school options that will allow you to access the divine through the rich prophecies of 18th- and 19th-century visionaries.
The Church of the Holy City
Like to read? The Church of the Holy City, 1611 16th St. NW, draws its inspiration from the spiritual writings of Swedish scientist and Christian mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (d. 1772). After a visit from an angel, Swedenborg ditched the scientific method and wrote 18 theological works that included an annotated version of the Bible (Heavenly Secrets) and Heaven and Hell, a detailed account of the afterlife. You’ll also be in the company of some great American literary figures. Both Helen Keller and Johnny Appleseed were Swedenborgians.
Baha’i Community of Washington D.C.
Christ? Mohammed? Buddha? Why choose just one when you can have them all? The Baha’i believe that all of these figures are messengers sent by one god. When attending one of their Devotional Gatherings at 5713 16th St. NW, you’ll have the freedom to discuss the prophet who best suits your needs. But just as with any “open floor” situation, there’s always the danger that a weirdo will steer an otherwise well-intentioned discussion off course and into the realm of the bizarre. At a service in June 2006, a visiting Bulgarian woman gave her thoughts on the Baha’i’s core value of peace by discussing her homeland, the death of her husband, mutant babies, and the human genome project.
At these all-accepting neo-Christian churches, you will find no shortage of acoustic guitars, Birkenstock sandals, tech toys, and hugging.
Seekers Church, 276 Carroll St. NW, is forever seeking the next great preacher. Any congregation member can sign up to lead a service—and unsurprisingly, many of the sermons home in on the church’s permissive vibe. “It is well and good to warn of the evils of hedonism, but the gift of our bodies with all of their senses of smell, sight, and touch would be so much the poorer for being deprived of the scent of roses,” said Seeker Sandra Miller during a sermon in September 2005. “I believe that I can pleasurably spread the word of God while still making provision for the flesh—and by taking advantage of the pleasures of the flesh, which can include hard physical labor in the service of others and making mad, passionate love.”
Unity of Washington D.C.
Church need not be a stodgy affair cloaked in tradition and antiquity. It can also be modern and snappy, with cutting edge technology on hand to enhance your spiritual experience. Unity of Washington D.C., 700 A St. NW, provides this advanced worship environment. Lights fade in and out to reflect moods both jubilant and meditative. Delicate synthesizers conjure a restful ambience. Meanwhile, computers record and burn the sermon to CD as it’s being delivered so that you can take it home to re-experience at your leisure.
Like being part of the crowd? How about a crowd of 500? With fire, brimstone, and a minimum service length of two and a half hours, you certainly won’t be alone in your faith while you praise the Lord at one of D.C.’s mini-mega-churches.
Church of God
Just about any church will give you the word on the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. But the Church of God, 2030 Georgia Ave. NW, has the lowdown on the other guy—the devil. According to a sermon given by Assistant Pastor Walter D. Roman in June 2006, Satan is currently working in conjunction with the Illuminati to bring about the birth of an Earthly Antichrist. Also, you might want to rethink getting that bar code tattooed on your body. Doing so might help out the Antichrist. “The mark—the bar code—the bar code is the mark!” declared Roman. “How else is one man—through his godless system—going to track everybody in the human race? The mark!”
United House of Prayer for All People
Mount Vernon Square
If you truly love God, you’re going to want to let him know. You’re going to want to testify. With its lively congregation and trombone-powered shout band, the United House of Prayer for All People, 601 M St. NW, will get you in the mood to unashamedly confess your faith in front of a crowd of total strangers. Say it straight up or let House of Prayer regulars inspire you to be more creative. Try telling God how you cast out a demon by rubbing topical cream on your forehead. Better yet, tell him that story in a language of your own invention.
Are you searching for a more up-close and personal worship environment? At D.C.’s storefront churches, you can experience spiritual trance states and impromptu prophecies in the intimacy that only a living room can offer.
St. James Restoration Apostle Church of Christ in God
At St. James, 1819 15th St. NW, you should feel free to sing and dance your heart out. Try crawling up on top of the drum set and passing out. Seize the microphone and prophesize that a congregation member’s baby is going to die. Don’t worry—if you lose yourself too deeply in the rapture, a kindhearted volunteer will be on hand to prevent you from hurting yourself or others. As one St. James worshipper put it: “Sometimes you have to do stupid and crazy stuff to get to God.”
Trinity Religious Temple Church
U Street Corridor
Small congregations can give a theatrical feel to the religious experience—especially when the pastor is prone to acting. During a sermon in July 2006, the Rev. James Plummer delighted his tiny congregation at 2024 16th St. NW by acting out the story of man’s exile from the Garden of Eden. “Are you there, Adam?” Plummer called out in the deep baritone of the creator. Then, assuming the role of Adam, he cowered behind an empty chair and changed his voice to a nasal whine. “I’m right here God—I’m hiding because I’m naked.”
If it’s direct communication with the spirit world you want, then you’re sure to find your spirit guide at one of D.C.’s Spiritualist churches. Here you can commune with the dead, cleanse your unconscious mind, and get your cells vibrating faster than ever before.
The Church of Two Worlds
Perhaps you’re feeling like church has become a metaphysical game of telephone that’s fraught with middlemen who obscure messages sent to you from beyond. At the Church of Two Worlds, 3038 Q St. NW, you can carry on direct intellectual discourse with the other side via channeling. During a prayer service conducted in August 2006, one worship leader allowed the spirit of a long-dead 12-year-old girl named Sunflower to inhabit his body. Once comfortable, Sunflower supplied the congregation with messages from the dead, relationship tips, and financial advice. She fumbled, however, when one congregation member brought up automotive repair. “I’m not so good with electrical-mechanical things ,” the ghost confessed.
Institute for Spiritual Development
Why go through all of the rigmarole of organized worship when freedom from pain and discomfort is only about half a million volts away? At the Institute for Spiritual Development, 5419 Sherier Place NW, science has finally caught up with metaphysics in the form of the Novalite 3000. This 4-foot-tall pink Tesla coil will encourage recovery from sickness by using an oscillator to restore unhealthy cells to a proper level of vibration. Sessions are only $25 and available by appointment—unless you have a pacemaker, in which case exposure to the device is not recommended.
Photographs by Darrow Montgomery