“Dad never was just about addressing spiritual needs; it was always about addressing a whole range of needs,” said Yvonne Williams, who chairs the trustee board of the church.
In the 1970s, Bible Way was on the cutting edge of providing services to the community, including a 183-unit affordable-housing complex known as the Golden Rule and an adjacent grocery store.The complex, financed in part by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was open to District residents who met Section 8 affordable-housing requirements.
“We never built anything just for the members,” Williams said. “My father’s heart was always for the entire community.”
In 2012, the church cut the ribbon for SeVerna, a 60-unit affordable-housing development at First and L streets NW. In February, the church broke ground on a 132-unit building — the second phase of its affordable-housing initiative.
The church is a development force in one of the fastest-growing corridors in the city, but Williams and Bible Way leaders say they maintain focus on the church’s spiritual future, too.
Last month, Elder Ronald Demery was named church pastor; Apostle James Silver retired as pastor this year. Silver, who had led the church since Bishop Williams’s death in 1991, is Demery’s grandfather.
Describing his ministry style, the 40-year-old Demery borrowed a phrase from Princeton University professor Cornel West: “You cannot lead the people unless you love the people, and you can’t love the people if you don’t serve the people.”
In his 1981 autobiography, “This Is My Story,” the church’s founder, Smallwood Williams, described his life as a passionate religious and community leader devoted to serving the people during a critical time for the city.
After moving to the District from Columbus, Ohio, in 1927, Williams started his ministry by preaching at a fire hydrant near Seventh and O streets NW. In the years that followed, he would go from a storefront to the church’s current multimillion-dollar temple.
“I understand how we got here,” Demery said. “A 20-year-old young man stood on a street corner and preached to people who were passing by. My hope is that we can go back to where we came from and go back out into the streets and reach the lost.”
Last month, 13 people were injured in a drive-by shooting a block from the church, near Tyler House, a federally subsidized apartment complex that has been plagued by violence for decades. Even as so much around New York Avenue and North Capitol Street has changed for the better, Demery said, young people in the area need more than Bible verses.