Serving Our Community

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

As a justice-seeking congregation in the heart of our nation’s capital, living justly is foundational who we are as a community of faith. For decades, we have served as a gathering place for rallies and prayer hosted by the national United Church of Christ’s Justice & Witness Ministries before stepping off to march together for peace and justice. We partner with tremendous organizing networks seeking affordable housing and justice for migrants in our city. Every Tuesday night we host a Drop-In Center for young adults who are unhoused or precariously housed. In recent years we have deepened our commitment to racial justice by undergoing an antiracism audit and seeking to transform our systems so we can act and advocate in our denomination, community, and region. We believe that serving together, particularly with our children and youth, enlivens our faith and educates us about the root causes of hunger, poverty, and homelessness.

Situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, we worship on the grounds of the ancestral homelands of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe, “the people where the rivers blend” and of the Nacotchtank/ Anacostan people. We honor their struggle to survive, their resistance and resilience in the face of land appropriation and cultural suppression, and the enduring spirit of the diverse Native communities represented by those who make their home in this area today.

The land at the corner of 10th & G was once worked by enslaved laborers on a tobacco plantation. We are currently funding research into our past so that we can erect a monument to those laborers to honor their lives, acknowledge their suffering, and reflect upon their sacred worth.

In 1985, we became a Just Peace Church while also exploring our calling to become a sanctuary congregation. In 1986, we voted to claim as part of our ministry the Committee of the Mothers of the Disappeared (COMADRES) in El Salvador, and to provide rent-free office space to its Director America Sosa, who was later arrested in our building, spurring advocacy which contributed to her legal victory.  In 1987, we became one of the United Church of Christ’s first Open and Affirming congregations, welcoming LGBTQ+ individuals and families into the full life and leadership of our congregation. In 2003, we articulated the vision of becoming a multiracial, multicultural church. In 2021, we passed a statement on becoming an antiracist church, calling for advocacy work to remedy systemic racism.

To learn more about how to connect with our justice ministries—including the Drop-In Center, service projects, advocacy with partner organizations, the work of antiracism, or seeking justice for migrants, read below and connect with our Social Action & Awareness Commission.

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

First Church operates the Downtown Drop-In Center for young people who are precariously housed or unhoused in partnership with Sasha Bruce Youthwork, a local youth homeless services agency. The Center is open from 6 – 8 pm each Tuesday to provide food, PPE supplies to go, HIV screening, vaccine clinics, yoga, and movies as a place of respite and connection. 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.

Jarred Bowman, our Drop-In Center Coordinator, focuses on building rapport with those who gather on Tuesday nights. 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, The Table 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 featured in Street Sense in 2017 – 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 opening, 20 – 70 people have visited the Drop-In Center each week. In addition to space, staffing, and resources, First Church provides trained volunteers for the center. The church also hosts an annual Thanksgiving dinner for the Center.

Racial Justice

Photo Credit: Matthew LaGamma

First Church has identified racial justice and working to confront white supremacy as a critical priority. The Antiracism Committee, which is comprised of members of the congregation, develops strategy and implements programs and events that forward our goals.

Among these efforts, we offer annual Lenten Learning Circles focused on antiracist books and podcasts, we utilize resources provided by the United Church of Christ to guide cohorts through a study of white privilege, we have prioritized training our leadership in antiracism, and we are currently developing communities of practice to continue the work in accountable relationships. Most importantly, we partner with vital partner organizations like Washington Interfaith Network, Congregation Action Network, and the Potomac Association of the Central Conference (UCC) to take action in multi-racial coalitions for racial justice, affordable housing, and human rights.

These efforts build on the church’s 2003 designation as a Multi-Racial, Multi-Cultural congregation.

History on Racial Justice at First Church

Racial justice has been a priority for First Church since it was founded in 1865 by abolitionists serving in the Lincoln Administration as one of the first integrated churches in Washington, DC. The land on which the building sits is the ancestral homeland of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe, “the people where the rivers blend” and of the Nacotchtank/ Anacostan people, then became a tobacco plantation worked by enslaved laborers. Our founders included General Oliver Otis Howard, head of the Freedman’s Bureau and founder of Howard University. The congregation’s first defining crisis occurred in 1869 when the church’s first pastor and more than half the congregation departed following a conflict over whether black and white people should indeed worship together, including at an integrated communion table. The crisis strengthened our relationship with Howard University, who purchased the note on the new building, saving us for this day.

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. The Rev. Bruce Hanson, assistant pastor at First Church, took a leave of absence in 1964 with the blessing of the congregation to work with Bob Moses during Freedom Summer, registering voters in Mississippi. First Church served as a training site for students and volunteers who participated in Freedom summer.

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. 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 those which call forth reflection, deliberation, and growth.

In 2020, following the murder of George Floyd, we mobilized in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic to serve as a public witness proclaiming Black Lives Matter. The congregation also passed a statement entitled, “Becoming an Antiracist Church,” empowering advocacy to support voting rights, affordable housing, criminal justice reform, DC statehood, and more. In 2021, we underwent a Racial Justice Audit testing a resource produced by the Central Atlantic Conference’s Audit Development Team, on which Rev. Amanda Hendler-Voss served. The audit provided insight into the need to transform our systems and structures in order to live into our antiracism calling.

Click here to read our Racial Justice Audit report.


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.


As part of our annual budget or through our “Second Sunday Special Offerings” we support the following organizations, many of whom we partner with to take action for justice:

Washington Interfaith Network (WIN) is a broad-based, multiracial, multi-faith, non-partisan organizing collective seeking to train and equip leaders to take action for affordable housing, public safety, and environmental justice.

Congregation Action Network (CAN) is a collective of more than 70 congregations in the DC Metro region organizing to end detention, deportation, profiling, and criminalization of immigrants in order to uphold justice, dignity, safety, and family unity.

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.

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.

Downtown Drop-In Center for Homeless Youth, a First Church partnership with Sasha Bruce Youthwork.

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

Thrive DC 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. Originally founded and housed at First Church from 1979 – 2009 (when it was known as the Dinner Program for Homeless Women), Thrive DC is comprehensive, professionally staffed, and bilingual, now located at 1525 Newton Street NW.

The Poor People’s Campaign is a movement seeking to shift the moral narrative, impacting policies and elections, and building lasting power for poor and impacted people. In 2022, we organized locally for the Mass Assembly and March on Washington, with our building serving as a gathering and departure place for UCC folks from around the nation.

Pathways to Housing seeks to end homelessness and support recovery for people with complex health challenges through a Housing First model. Our building houses one of their offices, ensuring those seeking housing can be served in our location.

Faith UCC Mobile Food Market is a collaborative ministry with our sibling congregation, providing food and infant supplies in Ward 5 on the third Thursday of the month.

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.