The Washington Post reported earlier this month that worship services were ceasing in Grace Reformed Church on 15th Street in Washington, D.C. The congregation, part of the United Church of Christ, disbanded in 2017. But the church continued to be rented for weekly use by Christ Reformed Church. It is also used by weekly by the Community Church of Washington D.C. (UCC).
Grace Reformed Church was originally part of the Reformed Church in the United States, a German American denomination centered in Pennsylvania that found its way into the United Church of Christ as part of the twentieth-century ecumenical movement. President Roosevelt’s connection was to Reformed Church of America, a Dutch American denomination based in New York. But there was no RCA church in Washington. The present building was erected during Roosevelt’s administration and he participated in laying the cornerstone. Like the former Central Presbyterian Church on Sixteenth Street, built during Woodrow Wilson’s administration, it was a church built for a president.
But there are no constants in the geography of American religion as the Post‘s Hannah Natanson notes explains in her story:
The church’s sale was inevitable, said Terry Lynch, a longtime advocate with the Downtown Cluster of Congregations. Its unique history could not protect it from the trends he said are imperiling all older churches in the District: rapid gentrification, shifting demographics and a lack of religiosity among younger residents.
He pointed to the fate of Lincoln Congregational Temple United Church of Christ, about seven blocks east of Grace Reformed. That church, one of Washington’s most historically significant African American houses of worship, closed its doors in September 2018.
“A number of congregations whose styles and operations date to the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s don’t apply anymore in 2020,” Lynch said. “Congregations have had to change or move to where their parishioners have moved — which is the suburbs — or they’ve ended up closing.”
Read the rest of her story here.