The church integrated in 1954, well ahead of many others.
Deacon Harold Ritchie, 79, who is African American, became a member of Calvary Baptist in 1987. But while Ritchie eventually joined the staff and now directs the church’s gospel choir, he says he had to grow spiritually to appreciate Butler, who became the church’s first female senior pastor in 2003.
Rev. Amy Butler, Senior Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, talks about the legacy of the 150 year old DC church that was started during the Civil War.
“At one time you had to be at least 60 years old to hold office and there was no such thing as a woman senior pastor,” Ritchie said. “I was raised in West Virginia, and when she came here I told her, ‘I didn’t vote for you, because where I grew up women were not supposed to be senior Pastors.’ She said, ‘I am going to show you something,’ and she did.”
On Sunday, Ritchie played the keyboard and led the gospel choir in the singing of the gospel tune “Soon and Very Soon,” as more than 300 people feasted on shrimp kabobs, roast beef and plenty of homemade dishes prepared by the church’s Latino ministry.
Calvary Baptist’s welcoming stance toward the broader community attracted church member Allyson Robinson four years ago.
“My family and I come from a Baptist heritage, but we are a lesbian couple with four children and we found a place where we can be ourselves and honored for who we are and still worship in our traditions,” Robinson said.
The church’s membership peaked right after World War I at more than 5,000, but then the numbers started to decline as the city changed. Butler said that in the late 1990s, membership dropped to fewer than 50 people, but in recent years the number has increased to 272, with about 200 people attending church every Sunday.
Ritchie credits Butler with leading the church’s revival. “This church for many years was dying,” he said.
Butler concluded her sermon by challenging members to continue the church’s legacy.
“What will they say about us in 50 years?” she said. “Will we choose the radical, risky way of Jesus as those who came before us did? I hope that they will say that we loved and welcomed whoever came through those doors . . . that they will say we loved each other deeply and that we cared for each other in good times and bad. It is up to us to start living out our history right now.”