Imani Temple is leaving the District

October 10, 2012

Imani Temple is a unique religious congregation, founded more than two decades ago after rebel priest George A. Stallings Jr. broke from the Catholic Church to minister to African Americans with a blended doctrine and liturgy incorporating Catholic, African and black evangelical elements. But the circumstances Imani now finds itself in are far from unique for a D.C. congregation: With worshipers living further away and neighborhood parking ever more scarce, the church is relocating to Prince George’s County.

Prince of Petworth brought news Tuesday that Imani’s grand old stone building, on the northeast corner of Stanton Park, has been listed for sale for $5.8 million. Stallings said in an interview Wednesday that the congregation is eyeing property just over the District line, near the intersection of Wheeler Road and Southern Avenue.

Even when Imani first purchased the building in 1994, Stallings said, most of his flock lived outside the immediate vicinity. But the church got a favorable deal on the property, located in a prime Capitol Hill location, and has mostly thrived in the years since. Now Imani’s approximately 600 members are living even farther from the church, and the demographic disparity between the black congregation and the largely white neighborhood has only gotten more stark.

“Our ministry is designed to reach out to the neediest and poorest in the Washington metropolitan area,” Stallings said. “The programs and activities designed for an Afrocentric approach to the ministry need to be anchored in a community where those needs are most felt.”


Stallings, seen in 2001 (Jahi Chikwendiu/TWP)

There was also a more practical concern: “The reality is that we are dealing with a location where we have no parking,” Stallings added, noting that enforcement has become more rigorous in recent years as residential neighbors fight for space.

“I don’t blame them — they live here; they have a right to park here,” he said. “We’re in a Catch-22 situation where we cannot grow this ministry. We are limited by parking regulations as well as that the constituency that we are trying to attract do not live on the Hill. Most of the folks are coming from Maryland.”

Stallings alluded to the gospel account where the apostles go fishing but catch nothing until Jesus gives them some advice: “He said, ‘Cast your net on the other side.’ The reality for us is the fish has moved.”

Besides the congregation, the city will be losing quite a character in Stallings, 64, who was a fixture of newspaper headlines in the 1980s and 1990s as he did battle with the Archdiocese of Washington — battles that included his 1990 excommunication and allegations that he had sexually abused two former altar boys. Stallings has strongly denied all of the abuse allegations; a lawsuit alleging Stallings played a role in the abuse of a seminarian in 1984 was settled by the Archdiocese in 2009. In the past 30 years, he has occasionally been a figure in city politics, enjoying close ties to top elected officials including mayors Marion Barry and Sharon Pratt and running unsuccessfully for the Ward 6 D.C. Council seat in a 1997 special election.

While Stallings said he’d love to see another congregation buy the property — perhaps one with a strong membership on Capitol Hill — he said the church’s duty is to get the best price to make the move to Maryland possible while also throwing off enough money to fund church programs. A couple of congregations have expressed interest in the building, which Imani paid $950,000 for, but Stallings said he was meeting with a developer today to discuss other options for the building — most likely, condominiums.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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