Mission & Identity

We are a UCC congregation in the heart of Washington, D.C., led by the Spirit and in covenant with God and each other.  We seek to understand and experience God and respond to the call of Christ as reflected in our heritage and today’s experiences.

We welcome people of all ages, abilities, racial and cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations and gender identities, and beliefs to share and grow in faith through worship, prayer, education, mutual support, and social action.

In so doing, by God’s grace, we nourish each other, embrace spiritual transformation, stand for justice and peace, and strive to heal our city, nation, and the world.

Read more about our church in the profile we wrote for our 2017 search for a senior pastor here, and click here for our statement on anti-racism.

Click here to read the Racial Justice Audit Report we conducted in 2021.

In grateful response to the call of Jesus Christ, we covenant with God and with each other to be a Church of Christ. We bind ourselves, in God’s redeeming presence, to walk together in ways revealed to us by the Holy Spirit in sacrament and Word, study and prayer, fellowship and mission.

We give our testimony using the “Statement of Faith of the United Church of Christ”:

We believe in You, O God, Eternal Spirit, God of our Lord Jesus Christ and our God, and to Your deeds we testify.

You call the worlds into being,
create us in Your own image,
and set before us the ways of life and death.

You seek in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin.
You judge us by Your righteous will
declared through prophets and apostles.

In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Lord,
You have come to us and shared our common lot,
conquering sin and death
and reconciling the world to Yourself.

You bestow upon us Your Holy Spirit,
creating and renewing the church of Jesus Christ,
binding in covenant faithful people of all ages, tongues, and nations.

You call us into Your church
to accept the cost and joy of discipleship,
to be Your servants in the service of humanity,
to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil,
to share in Christ’s baptism and eat at his table,
to join him in his passion and victory.

You promise to all who trust You
forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace,
courage in the struggle for justice and peace
Your presence in trial and rejoicing,
and eternal life in Your kingdom which has no end.

Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto You! Amen.

At First Congregational United Church of Christ of Washington, DC we assert that community responsibilities and steadfast love balance autonomy and freedom. We affirm that faith and life are nourished by “covenants,” beginning with God’s covenant with Noah, Abraham, Moses, enriched by a new covenant in Jesus Christ, and sustained by mutual covenants we strive to keep with each other.

As a Congregational Church founded in 1865 we have been deeply involved in the history of Washington, DC. Click here to read the centennial history of the church.

As part of a national denomination known as the United Church of Christ we remain deeply rooted in history and at the same time we engage the future to explore new forms of faithfulness.

We do not all agree, however we know that community is important and we come together to keep each other grounded in times of stress and receptive to the wonder of life in times of joy.

  • Preachers share insights and challenges based on scripture texts
  • Bible study sessions foster discussions among small groups
  • Educational programs introduce children and youth to Biblical stories and values
  • Music stretches our understandings beyond words
  • Prayers share concerns and celebrations
  • Our community is bound together by covenants
  • We have courage to doubt, and we have confidence that God is still speaking
  • We are in covenant with others through the United Church of Christ
  • We come together through covenants, not because we agree on doctrines
  • We consider “faith” a verb rather than a noun, a journey rather than a destination

We have taken “stands” around specific issues. Founded in 1865 by abolitionists as the first racially integrated church in Washington, we have publicly sustained long standing commitments to racial justice. We are an “open and affirming church” (ONA), welcoming LGBTQ friends and supporting marriage equality. We are a “just peace church,” committed to peace with justice. We are a people aspiring to be a “multiracial, multicultural church,” celebrating diversity and building bridges in our diverse society.

Open and Affirming

In 1973, First Church voted to enter into covenant with, and serve as host church for the Washington Metropolitan Community Church or MCC (a church that ministers predominantly to the GLBT community). That decision cost us some members well before the wider religious community took on this issue. In 1987 we formally became an Open and Affirming (ONA) church in the United Church of Christ. Read our Open and Affirming Statement.

Just Peace Church

In 1985 First Church voted be a Just Peace Church, focusing on the ways justice and peace are related to a range of issues, such as political struggles in Latin America and South Africa, race relations in the U.S., struggles for economic justice, and arms control. Read our Statement on Being a Just Peace Church.

A Multiracial Multicultural Church

In 2003, after a prolonged study, First Church voted to affirm a vision to become a more Multiracial Multicultural Church. Read our Multiracial and Multicultural Vision.


1861: The City of Washington has 56 churches and 90,000 inhabitants, of whom about 2,000 are federal employees. It is a southern city hostile to Congregationalism, which is identified with northern abolitionism.

1865: Washington grows to a city of 150,000, of whom 6,000 are federal employees, but only four new churches are added. The election of Abraham Lincoln as president, representing a new political party particularly resonant in New England and the Northwest, bring into Washington a sizable group of persons loyal to the new party and its principles. In addition, the Federal Government grows much larger as the Civil War lengthened and war-time logistics made its need manifest. It takes several years for newly-transplanted-from-New England Washingtonians to meet one another, to grow to a size large enough to consider action, to find leadership, and to decide they are not temporary sojourners in the nation’s capital.

September 17, 1865: A group of Washington Congregationalists has their first public service of worship.

November 15, 1865: One hundred and four persons, who three days earlier had covenanted together to be a new Church, stand before a Congregational Council of representatives from other Congregational churches and are recognized as the First Congregational Church of Washington, DC.

1865: The first minister is the Reverend C. B. Boynton, who is at the time Chaplain of the United States House of Representatives. The congregation quickly outgrows its worship spaces at the Unitarian Church (6th and D St NW), Metzerotte Hall (Pennsylvania Ave near 9th St NW), and the Law School of Columbia College, before beginning worship in the House of Representatives chambers in the Capitol.

May 1868: Due to the often 2,000 people who flock to hear Dr. Boynton each Sunday, the congregation moves into its new home at 10th and G St NW. Its large brick building makes a statement – the Congregationalists are here to stay.

1867: The church works diligently to use its Sunday school for basic education and to establish other schools to teach freed slaves. First Church plays a crucial role in the founding of Howard University to promote higher education for African Americans. The church later assists and gives financial support to African Americans who want to organize independent Congregational churches. Lincoln Temple Congregational UCC and Peoples Congregational UCC are among the beneficiaries. Over the church’s 150 year history, First Church has mothered or mentored five other churches in the Washington, DC area.

1869: Despite the church’s abolitionist beginnings and work for racial justice, internal disagreement regarding whether its calling is to help freed African Americans start their own churches or to accept them as members of First Church causes members resisting “integration,” including Dr. Boynton, to splinter. When the church divides over integration and segregationists leave, Howard University saves the church by buying the note.

1950’s: The church’s original, and almost 90 year old, building is declared unsafe during a time where other downtown churches are leaving the inner city and moving into the expanding Washington neighborhoods to be closer to members. Church leaders begin to propose moving First Church, but its “Congregational Church” nature requires all major decisions be made by congregational vote. Much to the surprise of the leaders, the congregation soundly rejects the relocation recommendation by a 3:1 margin. Although several church leadership resign and some members leave, the congregation remains committed to stay in the city.

1957: The United Church of Christ is founded. In its over 55 year life, the UCC has effectively overcome historical divisions and actively promoted social justice and radical hospitality. First Church, and neighboring Grace Reformed Church on 15th St, become part of the UCC.

1960’s: First Church remains engaged in civil rights and racial justice, and the sanctuary was one of the few large halls in Washington, DC, that would host an interracial meeting. First Church acts as a staging area for the 1963 March on Washington.

1961: The church moves into a newly rebuilt space after the old building is demolished. First Church worships at the Chinese Baptist Church in Chinatown during construction.

1970’s and 1980‘s: First church provides space and support for the new Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, DC, which was one of the earliest gay and lesbian congregations in the DC area. In collaboration with MCC, First Church launches the Dinner Program for Homeless Women.

1980’s: The church joins a UCC initiative to become a Just Peace church, rejecting war and working for peace.

1987: First Church officially votes to become an Open and Affirming congregation in the UCC, welcoming all people regardless of sexual identity. It is the 14th local congregation in the entire denomination of over 5,000 churches to take this step.

2000’s: First Church moves out of the location at 10th and G St NW for yet another much-needed restoration, worshipping in the afternoons at First Trinity Lutheran Church in Judiciary Square. The Dinner Program moves with First Church but soon becomes too big for the First Trinity space and its intended home at 10th and G. The program is reorganized as an independent organization, Thrive, DC, and provides meals and support for homeless men and women at a new location.

2003: The church passes a resolution aspiring to be a multiracial-multicultural church.

2007: The congregation moved out of the middle church to allow for the construction of new building at 10th & G.

2012: The congregation returns to its home since 1868 after overcoming funding struggles and leadership changes.

Today: First Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, DC is reinventing itself – building on its longstanding loyalty to the city, strengthened by ties to the United Church of Christ, and nourished by new leaders and members. The church remains deeply rooted in its history and at the same time faithfully claiming a new future. God is still speaking and we are listening.

Leadership & Staff

Rev. Amanda Hendler Voss

Rev. Amanda Hendler Voss

Senior Minister

The Rev. Amanda Hendler-Voss joyfully serves the community of First Church as the Senior Minister. Raised in a suburb of Detroit, working for the Appalachia Service Project cultivated a love for the mountains that compelled her to move south. There, she initially worked with those living with HIV/AIDS and fell in love with the United Church of Christ, an open and affirming denomination. As a Woodruff scholar at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Amanda earned her Masters of Divinity with certificates in Black Church Studies and Church and Community programs. In Atlanta she coordinated the Georgia chapter of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), organizing anti-war protests and educational programs, as well as authoring a new curriculum, Faith Seeking Peace, on redirecting federal budget priorities to meet human and environmental needs.

Amanda was ordained in the western North Carolina Association of the UCC in 2006 while serving as a Minister of Faith Formation. In 2009, Amanda co-founded the thriving community of Land of the Sky United Church of Christ in Asheville, NC, where she served as Co-Pastor for eight years in an intentional, power-sharing model. Her vocation as a pastor is shaped by Amanda’s particular calling to racial justice. At Land of the Sky UCC she launched a racial justice ministry in which she co-led dismantling racism training, engaged in a racial justice audit of ministries, created programming for children and youth to highlight the testimonies of local leaders of color, and launched conversations about reparations. In August of 2017, she engaged in sacred activism in Charlottesville where she served as an on-call chaplain to those impacted by the tragic violence of white supremacy. Amanda recently completed a yearlong training as part of the first cohort of UCC leaders equipped to facilitate Sacred Conversations to End Racism 2. She consistently seeks new opportunities to learn and grow on the lifelong journey of dismantling racism within and without.

In 2017, Amanda relocated to northern Virginia with her spouse, Seth, and boys, Myles (13) and Simon (7) to enter a reflective season of ministry. A lover of words and contemplative spirituality, Amanda has served in recent years as a freelance writer, Spiritual Director, and Co-Facilitator of a clergy Community of Practice in the Potomac Association. She enjoys hiking, baking, running, reading, and snuggling her adopted dog, Ginger. Perhaps most importantly, she seeks to honor the sacred in every person she encounters and the well-being of the Earth’s family of all living things.

Rev. Sam McFerran

Rev. Sam McFerran

Associate Minister

Sam is grateful to serve alongside the First Church community as Associate Minister. He feels called to create a space to help all ages, from infants to adults, sense God’s presence in their lives. Sam desires to make the church more about how we relate to God and with one another than a static adherence to tradition, creed, or even our history. He believes God is still speaking, and through Sunday school, service, story sharing and song, prayer and acts of solidarity with the marginalized, that we are provided opportunities to hear God’s call and act upon it. Sam is ordained in the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) and a graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary, the University of Kansas, and Haverford College. He is joined by his wife, Lauren, and their two sons, Brendan and Ryan. Sam loves the Nationals, playing baseball, and living in DC!

Leela Koilpillai

Leela Koilpillai

Director of Music Ministry

Leela Koilpillai came to the United States at the age of six, eventually returning to study medicine in Pune, India. While in college she was offered an opportunity to lead a girls' choir and loved it so much it switched to a music major. She holds degrees in piano and vocal performance and has studied choral conducting under Robert Shaw, Helmut Rilling and Don Neuen. She has sung with the Washington Opera, and performed extensively in the Washington, D.C. area. Her soprano voice was favorably reviewed by the Washington Post as “… beautifully crystalline.”

Leela has taught and conducted every age group and level of experience, from Kindergarten to Elderhostel. Her high school choirs (Fairfax County, VA) have sung at the White House, Kennedy Center and St. Patrick's Cathedral in NYC. She is skillful as at developing, motivating, and inspiring musical groups. She formed and directed a chamber vocal ensemble in Portland, Maine, "Northern Lights," which focused on contemporary choral repertoire with an emphasis on Scandinavian and Russian music.

Leela’s organ teachers include Ray Cornils and David Maxwell. In the summer of 2016 she had the honor to be one of the organists in the Kotzschmar (which boasts 102 ranks, 6,862 pipes in eight divisions) Organ Day festival. She has taken organ coaching with Ray Cornils and David Maxwell (State Street Church, Portland, ME).

In Maine, Leela taught at Waynflete School, coached musicals at Greeley HS, in Cumberland,  led the "Rocka' My Soul" gospel ensemble in S. Berwick while maintaining a private piano and vocal studio.  She has led tours in the Eastern U.S and Europe. She loves to cook, draw, paint and write in her spare time.

Byron Adams

Byron Adams

Building Manager

Byron devotes his church hours to building relationships with a variety of organizations in the Greater Washington region (including Ford’s Theater, Washington Bach Consort, The Thirteen Choir, New Orchestra of Washington, Choral Arts Society, and many others) who use the church’s space for concerts, lectures, forums, classes, and more. His service on the Site Development Design Team and a career in marketing and event management gives him a unique perspective on how the building can be used and promoted to build the wider community in the heart of the city. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and has studied Spanish through immersion language training in Chiapas, Mexico and San Jose, Costa Rica. Building Manager Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 8:30 AM – 4:30PM.

Whitney McColley

Whitney McColley

Administrative Assistant

Whitney joined First Congregational UCC as the Administrative Assistant in February 2023 and is thrilled to be supporting the life and mission of the church. She studied classical voice at Ithaca College (B.M.) and Boston University (M.M.) before moving “behind-the-scenes” to work in arts administration. She worked in fundraising, personnel management, and production for organizations including Chorus America, Washington National Opera, The Choral Arts Society of Washington, and The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Whitney grew up in the United Church of Christ denomination and is currently the soprano choral associate and a member of The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. She lives in northern Virginia with her husband Adam and their daughter Maddie.

Jarred Bowman

Jarred Bowman

Drop-in Center Coordinator

A fifth generation Washingtonian, Jarred is deeply passionate about DC’s youth and families and has committed his life and career to learning and growing in communities committed to transformational change. Jarred comes to us with experience serving in local, state and federal agencies to address structural inequities, and has leveraged his skills to effectively co-advocate for meaningful change. Of all his diverse experiences, Jarred finds his work as a middle school STEM teacher to be most rewarding and life-changing. Presently, Jarred uses his passion and knowledge of education policy to help DC families build a more accessible, more affordable and higher quality early childhood system in the District.
As an advocate and bridge builder, Jarred is eager to use his broad skills and experience to build deeper connections with unhoused youth and their families in the Drop-In Center, and to make it a space where all families feel safe and valued. Jarred holds a B.S. in Government, Politics & History from St. John’s University and a Master’s in Urban Education from the University of Pennsylvania. He lives close to his early-childhood home in Riggs Park, and is excited to be a part of the First Church Community.

Kemmesha Thomas

Kemmesha Thomas

Sunday Liaison

Kemmesha is from Wisconsin and moved to Maryland to pursue a Master in Public Health in Health Equity at UMD College Park. One of her interests in Public Health is how housing instability impacts health, which is why she’s glad to be working with the church as a liaison for those without a home and pathways. Some fun facts about Kemmesha: she is the second oldest of 5, loves the outdoors but can definitely sit inside and get lost in a book or a good TV series, she is a vegetarian who does not like fruit or seafood (so in her words she is picky). As an undergrad she was part of the women’s track and field team where she competed in seven events as a heptathlete. Her favorite was javelin.

LaTayna Purnell

LaTayna Purnell

Member in Discernment

LaTayna grew up in the church as a preacher’s kid in South Texas. She has worked in and around education and faith communities her entire life. Her research focuses on intersectionality and how faith communities can support individuals in underrepresented and marginalized groups, mainly black transgender siblings. She is completing her national UCC Sacred Conversations to End Racism facilitator coursework. LaTayna studied at the University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Maine and received her Doctorate from Indiana University. She graduated with a Master of Divinity from the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. She is pursuing a Doctorate of Ministry for the Pacific School of Religion.  H., where she led and created the United Church of Christ/Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) student group and co-founder of the Student of Color Caucus. LaTayna’s recent work interning with AllianceQ was a meaningful opportunity to bring awareness to the need to support the LGBTQ+ community within and beyond church walls. The experience further inspired her desire to help shift the growing edges of more congregations toward becoming a truly beloved community.

LaTayna is moving to Hyattsville, MD, with her wife, Cindy,  two sons, Myles and Jonah, and two pups, Bodhi and Puck.

Lynaya Morris

Lynaya Morris

Member in Discernment

Originally from Pocomoke, Maryland, Lynaya holds two Master's degrees; one in Higher Education Administration from George Washington University and the second in Theology from Wesley Theological Seminary. Lynaya served and lived among students as an Area Coordinator, Residence Director, and later a Career Coach. Lynaya enjoys not just the science disciplines and theology, but also creative endeavors such as baking, painting, knitting, comedy, and listening to music. Lynaya is currently living in Toronto, ON Canada with her husband Luke as he pursues is doctorate in Political Science at the University of Toronto.


In January 2012, First Congregational UCC returned to the corner of 10th and G Streets to continue to witness for peace and justice in the nation’s capital. Our return capped a journey that started in 2004 when we admitted to ourselves that our prior building had reached the end of its useful life.

The church decided to get creative. After an intense period of congregational study, we issued requests for proposals from local developers and architects, inviting them to work with use to build a new mixed-use building on our historic site. This lead to a partnership that created a new church – accessible and flexible enough to meet the contemporary needs of our congregation and our neighbors.

We demolished the old building, recycling 90-95% of everything inside and outside the building, and we worked with developers and the internationally acclaimed firm of Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects to build a new Gold LEED home expressing our values of environmental stewardship. The mixed-use building includes our church space of 24,000 square feet, 162,000 square feet of Class A office space, and a restaurant.

The building has been featured in ARCHITECTURE Magazine and won awards from two chapters of the American Institute of Architects, the Downtown Business Improvement District, and the Committee of 100 on the Federal City.

Read more information about our building in our guide and brochure. Additional press coverage and materials can be found below:

Interested in renting our space? Visit this page for more information.

First Congregational United Church of Christ was founded in 1865 by abolitionists as the first racially integrated church in Washington, DC. In 1867, the mission committee of the church played a prominent role in the founding of Howard University. In 1868, after worshipping for several years in Congress, the church moved into its newly constructed building at the corner of 10th and G Streets, NW. When the church divided over integration in 1869 and the segregationists left, Howard University saved the church by buying the note.

In 1953, when the original structure was condemned, the Trustees recommended that the building be sold and the church relocated. The congregation rejected this recommendation and voted to rebuild in the present location, continuing the mission of downtown ministry in the nation’s capital and affirming the church’s presence in the urban area. During the 1960’s, First Church was active in the Civil Rights Movement, and this activism has continued throughout the church’s history. First Church is proud to be an Open and Affirming (ONA) Church (as of 1975), a Just Peace Church (as of 1986) and to have affirmed the vision as a Multiracial/Multicultural Church (2003).

United Church of Christ

Instead of focusing upon unchanging truths,

the United Church of Christ (UCC) strives to unite diverse understandings of Christianity by treating historic creeds and confessions as testimonies, not tests of faith. We say, “whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” We assert that “God is still speaking.”

In the United Church of Christ, there is no central authority or hierarchy; Christ alone is Head of the church.

Each congregation is autonomous and local churches are governed by their members as guided by the Holy Spirit. Each congregation relates to the wider church family (denomination) through voluntary covenants. Sometimes the UCC is confused with the “Churches of Christ”; this denomination is quite different and does not embrace the progressive social witness characterized by the UCC.

Visit the UCC website to learn more about the denomination, and follow these links to learn more about our regional association and regional conference.