Thursday, May 02, 2013

Major DC church loses pastor just before new organ opens

The Washington Post reports on Thursday, May 2, 2013, on the front page, in a story by Hamil R. Harris and Michelle Boorstein, on the resignation of Rev, Jeffrey Haggray from the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC.

I grew up in this church with my parents as an only child, raised in nearby Arlington VA.
The link for the story is here. The online title is telling, “Dismal parting for storied D.C. Church and its first black pastor”.

Haggray was the church’s first African-American pastor.
Many downtown churches that flourished in the 1950s have had difficulty maintaining membership in large cities.  In general, they have tended to become more liberal politically, and have often found it necessary to appeal to nearby LGBT communities (particularly the case given the location of FBC, a few blocks from all the 17th Street clubs). Some people with a more demonstrably contemporary worship style have come, reportedly creating tension for a church used to formal services.   Older members have sometimes been unnerved. 
FBC had a pastor emeritus, Edward Pruden (from Richmond), in the 1940s and 1950s, who was very progressive on race, and even preached about how a Christian Europe could have allowed Nazi Germany to develop. Pruden authored a book in 1951, "Interpreters Needed". 

I was baptized in the church on January 29, 1956, at the age of 12, by immersion, with my mother.  I mentioned that in my memorial address there January 16, 2011. 
The previous pastor, James Sommerville, now is pastor of a large Baptist Church on Monument Avenue in Richmond, VA.  I visited it in November, 2010. 
I got to know Everett Goodwin, who as pastor in the early 1990s, when I worked on my first book.  For a while, there was a separation in the 90s, and Dr. Goodwin formed a Baptist Fellowship that met nearby.
President Jimmy Carter taught Sunday school there in the late 1970s sometimes, usually in the balcony. I recall a lesson on “The Divorce Chapter”.

First Baptist is on an aggressive building program.  The former parking lot is seeing “Monopoly-style” development of an apartment building which will give it considerable lease income.  The building will be totally secular in management. 
The church raised large funds to purchase a 125-rank organ, built in the Czech Republic, and now installed.  The sanctuary has re-opened (allowing immersion baptism again), but the date for the organ to be available has not been announced yet as far as I know.  I suspect it may happen in June.  There will probably be a major concert shortly after opening, but no date is set yet.

The Church will have a new state-of-the art audio system.  The original building opened Christmas Day, 1955, and the audio system was set up and largely run for over 50 years by my own friend, Charles Hailey, Jr, of Falls Church, VA; he passed away suddenly late in 2011.  
FBC has sponsored numerous piano recitals (often emphasizing Chopin and Gershwin) by Thomas Pandolfi. 
I expect that the opening of the organ, one of the largest in the US, will attract musicians from all over the country, including many whom I know in NYC. 

Update: May 7

The Washington Post this morning published some Letters to the Editor, a couple from people whom I know, here.  But the Post stuck to its line with the aggregate heading "First Baptist's Divided Pews".  Really?

I think the window above is the one my father contributed toward in the 1950s.  

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