Serving Our Community

First Church offers many opportunities to demonstrate love and care for our neighbors and help change our community and world.

Volunteerism is central to the ethos of First Church. Since our founding in 1865, we have been active in the life of the community, both immediately near us at the corner of 10th and G Streets NW and beyond.

As we look to our future, we welcome your leadership in one of the ministries that are already underway. If we are not yet doing something that you think would benefit our community, we invite you to consider how we might undertake that work.

To volunteer or to share your ides for new involvements for the congregation, please speak with our Moderator or one of the ministers after worship.

Homework Assistance: Join other First Church members at the Shaw Community Center to provide children and youth with academic support on their road to success. Time commitment is flexible depending on availability, with options for Monday through Thursday evenings during the academic year.

 

Snack Pack Production: Each month, First Church members prepare bags with snacks for DC residents who are homeless. Each person participating is asked to provide three sandwich-sized bags with individually packaged, non-perishable items. The snacks are shared with young people who attend the Downtown Drop-In Center on Monday nights.

Walk to End HIV: Held for the past 30 years, the Walk & 5K to End HIV is the signature fundraiser for Whitman-Walker Health, a Washington, DC community health center. The walk raises money to support Whitman-Walker’s mission of providing dependable, high quality, comprehensive, and accessible health care to those infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. The occur typically occurs one Saturday morning in the fall, and walkers seek pledges and participate in the walk.

Drop-In Center for Homeless Youth: First Church operates the Downtown Drop-In Center for Homeless Youth in partnership with Sasha Bruce Youthwork and the Downtown Business Improvement District. We offer food, board games, movies, programming for self-improvement, HIV testing, case management, and a sense of community and belonging. The center is open on Monday nights and volunteers arrive at 5:30pm and leave by 9:30pm.

Hands-on Home Repair: Help repair or maintain the home or yard of an elderly or low-income person in our city. Volunteers typically help out one weekend afternoon a few times a year.

Housing Advocacy: Part of First Church’s Homes for All program, members and friends engage in advocacy to maintain and increase the availability of affordable housing in Washington, DC.

Washington Interfaith Network: Partnerships with organizers and other congregations in advocacy efforts related to a variety of justice issues.

Drop-in Center

On Monday nights, First Church overflows with laughter, the sounds of recent movies, and the smell of pizza as dozens of the city’s most vulnerable people enter for a time of respite and connection to others.

These guests are young people who are either homeless or in unstable housing situations. At First Church they find the Downtown Drop-In Center, which many of these young people now refer to simply as “Pizza Monday.”

First Church operates the Downtown Drop-In Center in partnership with Sasha Bruce Youthwork, a local youth homeless services agency. The Center is open from 6 – 9 pm each Monday and provides food, games, a movie, and HIV screening. In addition, guests may take advantage of case management services to gain access to a range of resources, including employment training and placement, mental and physical healthcare, substance abuse treatment, and housing access.

Perhaps most importantly, the Downtown Drop-In Center provides guests an opportunity to feel at home for a while, talk to volunteers from First Church or Stand Up for Kids about matters important, banal, or nothing at all, and experience the loving embrace of the entire congregation.

The drop-in center was recently featured in Street Sense – find the article here.

Background on the Downtown Drop-In Center

First Church launched the Drop-In Center in August 2016 in partnership with Sasha Bruce Youthwork and the Downtown Business Improvement District (BID), which provided partial funding for the pilot program. In doing so, First Church draws on its long-term engagement in issues of homelessness, which included serving as the downtown homeless service center until the church facility was demolished in preparation for construction of the current church facility, which opened in 2011. First Church was also the 1979 birthplace of the Dinner Program for Homeless Women, which has grown into Thrive DC and provides a range of services to homeless individuals.

Since it opened, 20 – 70 people have visited the Drop-In Center each week. In addition to space, staffing, and money, First Church also provides volunteers for the center. The church also hosts an annual Thanksgiving dinner for the Center, provides food for snack packs that Center guests can take with them, and other support.

Racial Justice

Photo Credit: Matthew LaGamma

First Church has identified racial justice and working to confront white privilege as a critical priority. The Racial Justice Working Group, which is comprised of members of the congregation, had developed a strategy and is implementing programs and events that forward its goals.

Among these efforts, the group worked with other volunteers to plan and develop a discussion group focused on white privilege and using a curriculum developed by the United Church of Christ. In addition, the church has screened films followed by discussions and shared articles, podcasts, and other materials with congregants. The racial justice strategy document defines priorities related to internal (personal), internal (congregational), and external (community) transformation. These efforts build on the church’s 2003 designation as a Multi-Racial, Multi-Cultural congregation.


The decision to designate itself as such affirms that racial justice has been a priority for First Church since it was founded in 1865 as the first integrated church in Washington, DC. Two years after its founding, First Church helped found Howard University in support of education and uplift to freed enslaved African Americans. The congregation’s first defining crisis occurred almost immediately when the church’s first pastor – a segregationist who was not a founder of the church – and more than half the congregation departed following a conflict over whether black and white people should indeed worship together. That left the congregation with an even stronger commitment to racial justice. In the late 1800s, African American members numbered 30 – 50, and Frederick Douglass and other prominent blacks were regular visitors.

In the 1950s and 1960s, First Church was a strong supporter of civil rights and served as a meeting place for interracial meetings and as a staging area for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.


Yet, much work remains to be done. Our 150th anniversary in 2015 provided us with an opportunity to reflect with pride and honesty on our founding and provided us with ethical grounding that will inform our future. Who do we want to be on our 200th anniversary?

Although First Church’s founders were abolitionists, many of them – like abolitionists more broadly – stopped short of calling for racial equality. And while the congregation recommitted to working on racial justice after the early departure of its segregationist first pastor, First Church, like many others, has had moments worthy of celebration as well as some of which it is less proud.


What does it mean to be a prophetic voice in 2017? Rather than pat ourselves on the back in 2017 for our 150 years of good intentions, we believe we are called to push ourselves to discern, articulate, and act on what we need to do during the next 50 to 100 years to end racism in the church, community, and country. Our goal is to ensure that members of First Church in 2065 will be able to look back and say of us, “they got it right.”

Click here for our Approach to Racial Justice.

Sanctuary

First Church is one among more than 1,000 U.S. faith communities that have designated themselves as “sanctuary congregations,” committing to protect and stand with immigrants facing deportation and with other vulnerable groups.

With leadership from members and friends comprising the Sanctuary Working Group, First Church engaged in its own advocacy and education efforts and also partners with Sanctuary DMV and Downtown D.C. Sanctuary DMV Congregations network. Sanctuary DMV is comprised of faith communities in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. that have committed to resist policy proposals that target and seek to deport undocumented immigrants and discriminate against other marginalized communities, including people of color, religious minorities (particularly Muslims), and LGBTQ individuals.


Sanctuary efforts take a variety of forms, including individuals who arrived in the U.S. as children with their parents and are now at risk of deportation because of the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), people threatened by the potential end of the Temporary Protected Status program (TPS) and others. Sanctuary also may involve rapid response to serve as witnesses when there is notice that immigration officials seek to take an individual into custody, accompanying undocumented individuals to legal and immigration proceedings, and training to be an active bystander when witnessing actions against immigrants or other undocumented individuals on the streets and elsewhere.


The decision to become a sanctuary congregation is consistent with First Church’s priorities, history, and beliefs. It also is in accord with the mandates of major religions. For example, the Hebrew Bible references the command to welcome the stranger more than 30 times, and Jesus urges his followers to do the same. The Quran teaches believers to protect the vulnerable.

First Church members unanimously approved the designation in Spring 2016. The vote followed a recommendation from the Church Council, which created a task force of members and friends earlier in the year to discern whether First Church should make the designation and specifically what identifying as such would mean for the congregation. Read the full motion here.

See the history of the sanctuary movement here.

Partners

Throughout the year, the Church takes up monthly collections for the following organizations whose missions are consistent with our congregational priorities:

Black Lives Matter DC is a collective of organizers, activists, and artists in the DC who work to combat anti-blackness and racialized oppression in all of its manifestations as experienced by Black people through healing, building community power within Black neighborhoods, and connecting Black folks who share the same desire for liberation.

SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) DC seeks to organize white people to dismantle white supremacy and support racial justice movements. ThriveDC works to prevent and end homelessness by providing vulnerable individuals a comprehensive range of services — meals, showers, laundry, and more — to help stabilize their lives.

Empower DC is a city-wide grassroots organization committed to building the power of low-income communities of color to create long lasting, positive change and to counter forces of displacement and gentrification.

One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS) , the Second Sunday offering in March, is a special mission offering of the United Church of Christ that involves us in disaster, refugee/immigration, and development ministries throughout the world. Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions.

Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light and Anacostia Watershed Society , two environmental stewards. Interfaith Power and Light provides a “religious response to climate change” by working with hundreds of congregations of all faiths across Maryland, DC, and Northern Virginia to save energy, go green, and respond to climate change. The mission of the Anacostia Watershed Society is to protect and restore the Anacostia River and its watershed communities by cleaning the water, recovering the shores, and honoring the heritage.

Global Ministries missionary to Colombia is a joint ministry of the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ. The mission works with pastors, lay leaders, Christian organizations and entire congregations from many different denominations to meet the needs of the communities they serve as they struggle with the effects of violent conflict.

Shaw Community Center enhances the lives and expand the opportunities of children, youth, and adults of the Shaw community in Washington, D.C.

Strengthen the Church (STC), an offering of the United Church of Christ to reimagine and build the future of the UCC. Shared at the conference and national levels, STC largely supports youth ministries and full-time leaders for new churches in parts of the country where the UCC voice has not been heard.

Life Asset empowers people through affordable financial products (e.g., microloans), services, and education, thereby promoting self-help and self-respect and expanding social and economic opportunities for lower income residents gives microloans and credit to help alleviate poverty in Washington DC.

Downtown Drop-In Center for Homeless Youth, a First Church partnership with Sasha Bruce Youthwork to offer a drop-in center from 6 until 9 p.m. every Monday night at the Church. In addition to food, board games and movies, the center also offers screening for HIV and case management services to address issues such as education, health, job training and placement and housing. Most critically, at the church, young people find a safe place to experience community.

Neighbors in Need (NIN), a United Church of Christ (UCC) offering to support ministries of justice and compassion throughout the United States.

Seabury’s Age-In-Place program, supports older adults in Washington, D.C.’s Wards 4, 5, and 6 through transformative volunteer service projects that help people stay in their own homes. Age-In-Place engages volunteers as a critical piece of the safety net in D.C. by providing yard

UCC’s Christmas Fund provides financial aid to retired and active ministers and their surviving spouses and children who face overwhelming financial demands.