A beautiful historic church stands on a hill overlooking Georgia Avenue at Quackenbos Street in Northwest Washington. Its doors are locked, and a raze permit is duct-taped to the front entrance.
Raze is a fancy word for destruction.
Emory United Methodist Church, the church is question, has been a part of Washington’s Brightwood neighborhood since 1833, and now it’s in a transition season.
When the current building, which was built in 1922, is torn down in the next few weeks, a new structure will take its place. Slated to be completed next fall, the $44 million project will be called the Beacon Center and it will be a part of the Brightwood community’s development.
The new building will include a 99-unit affordable housing complex that will include permanent supportive housing for those in emergency situations, transitional housing for those looking for a permanent home and permanent residency for seniors and people who want to live in the district but cannot afford to.
The Rev. Joseph Daniels, the pastor of Emory, said the new church and development is designed to a large degree around the surrounding area’s needs. The vision for the new facility grew from one-on-one meetings business owners, police, local school teachers and Brightwood residents, Daniels said.
“We’ve always been a community church,” he said. “So, we spent several years asking the community what they want to see in Brightwood. What do they want Brightwood to become?” said Rev. Joseph Daniels, the pastor of Emory. “And what we kept hearing over and over again was affordable housing.”
Housing is a serious issue in Brightwood, Daniels said. So, part of the idea for the center came from a desire to lead people from homelessness to permanent residency, he said.
The Beacon Center will also include a multipurpose worship, theater and concert space and two additional commercial spaces.
“We’re still doing our market research on what would be better in that space,” said Hazel Broadnax, president of the Emory Beacon of Light Inc., the church’s non-profit community development organization, “but we do know that this community and our church members all are in favor of having a sit-down restaurant. There’s a shortage of that in our part of Georgia Avenue,”
Until the Beacon Center is completed next year, the church will be worshiping at the Brightwood Education Campus for the 8:45 a.m. and 11 a.m. services and Bridges Academy at 1 p.m.
Janice Harmon, a church member, sees this time as a season for growth and an opportunity for the congregation to understand the true meaning of community.
“It takes you out of that box which people think is church, and puts you square in the middle of what church really is, which is the community and caring for others,” Harmon said.
When two fires within sixteen months threatened the nearly-100-year-old building, Emory started looking for solutions. The result is the new facility.
Despite the good that the Beacon Center will do for the community, one issue still remains: the history.
“Ward 4, in that particular area, is historical,” said Acqunetta Anderson, a member of the ward 4A Advisory Neighborhood Commission. “That is the area where the civil war soldiers were protecting the interests of the District of Columbia. Even president Lincoln was shot at on the Walter Reed Campus. We have the fort right in the back of Emory. So we want to make sure that that historical aspect is protected.”
Anderson, who is running to be the Ward 4 council member, plans to contact Emory to discuss their project in-depth. She believes it is important to continually update citizens on the development.
However, the history will not be erased completely. According to Broadnax, the columns in the front of the church and its winding stairs will be preserved amidst all the other changes. But for the most part, it will be a new structure.
“We do miss the old edifice,” Daniels said. “There’s something about it that will always be very much a part of our hearts. Yes, there’s nostalgia, but there is the excitement that this new thing is happening and that it’s going to bless multitudes of people, which is great.”