Rev. Earl Trent was still preaching in the pulpit of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church in Northwest Washington, but across the street outside the Howard Theatre people were already lining up to participate in another Sunday tradition: brunch.
"I have never been here before, but I am hoping that I will be able to come back if this makes a good impression," said Roxanne Defendini, who along with her husband were among the hundreds who dined at the Howard Theatre for its first “Gospel Brunch.”
The Waldorf couple got to choose from a menu that included shrimp grits, fried chicken, scrambled eggs, macaroni and cheese and collard greens. As the crowds of people made their way through the food line and dined at their tables, the rousing sounds of the Harlem Gospel Choir filled the room.
Within the church crowd, Sunday brunch has become as much a part of the day’s ritual as Sunday School, said Rev. Trent, pastor of the 100-year-old Florida Avenue Baptist. The tradition has a special place in the hearts of many families because it is the time of the week when they slow down from busy lives to share a meal.
“Most people eat somewhere after church,” Trent said. “Here they will be able to be steeped in our history and what they heard on Sunday morning will be reinforced, and this will be a gathering place. This will inspire folks.”
While the Howard Theatre was once a popular venue for black artists for decades, the venue was packed Sunday with people of many ages and races. Some of them even found their way to stage when the lead singer for the Harlem choir solicited voices to a sing a line of a gospel favorite, “Oh Happy Day.”
Marylyn Walker, who came to brunch from Fort Washington, said: “You need to have something like this for the Christian community fellowship.”
Even though she didn’t make it to the brunch Sunday, Alphalue Chambers, 91, a member of Florida Avenue, said she plans to dine at a place she went to years ago.
While the overflowing crowd is prompting those who manage the restaurant to consider lowering the seating capacity of the restaurant, Linda Watson, was focused more on the music than the meal. “I love this. I used to come here as a child,” said Watson, raising her hands as the group sang “Total Praise.’
But so much has changed since the days when African American artists could perform only in venues like the Howard theatre. Stephanie Davis, who is engaged to be married, came to the theatre with a table full of friends.
“I love gospel music,” said Davis, who is white. “I am now living in Los Angeles, but when I heard about this, I decided to come because I plan to have gospel music in my wedding.”
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