Divisions lead National City Christian Church pastor to resign

November 4, 2004

Editor’s note: This story was published Nov. 5, 2004.

The Rev. Alvin O. Jackson, senior pastor of one of the city’s prominent historic churches, has announced his resignation after weeks of what congregational leaders said was acrimonious debate over his leadership and management style.

“After a lot of prayer and thought, I saw this as the best thing for me to do,” Jackson, pastor of National City Christian Church in Northwest Washington, said in an interview yesterday.

“There’s a lot of support for my ministry here, but there are people who are finding it difficult to move forward with the changes and provide some kind of assistance,” said Jackson, an African American brought to National City six years ago to remake an aging, mostly white congregation on Thomas Circle into a vibrant church.

Jackson, 54, made his surprise announcement Wednesday night at a regular meeting of the church’s board of elders, reading a letter that was being mailed to the congregation.

“From the early months of my ministry, there has been resistance to the radical transformation that is required to make the vision a reality at National City Christian Church,” he wrote of his decision to resign, effective at the end of the month.

“The resistance has greatly intensified in the last year,” he said. “I will leave it to you and God to judge whether the strong vocal resistance and conflict that have emerged are about my ministry and me, or about the radical transformation that is required for the continued pursuit of the vision at National City Christian Church.”

Under Jackson’s leadership, National City has welcomed people of all races and sexual orientations.

His resignation letter comes a year after he announced in a letter to the congregation that he was taking a 10-week leave of absence following an admission that he had preached other people’s sermons as his own. He returned to the pulpit in January.

Chrys Lemon, an elder and member of the church’s personnel committee, said he and 87 of the church’s 400 active members recently signed a petition calling for a “no confidence” vote by the elders. Lemon said the current controversy involves the pastor’s “relationship with the lay leadership of the church and how church is managed” -- not Jackson’s multicultural vision or admission that he used others’ sermons without attribution.

National City is affiliated with the 789,000-member Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a denomination founded on congregational principles. Most major decisions of a congregation, including hiring and firing staff members, are done in consultation with the lay leaders or committees.

During Jackson’s tenure as senior pastor, about two dozen people have resigned or been fired from the National City staff for various reasons, according to several members. Recent discontent centered on the August departures of the Rev. Greg Howell, senior associate pastor, and Ed Moore, organist and minister of music, and last month’s resignation of Marvin Mills, associate minister of music.

Jane Strotman, chairman of the personnel committee and a member since 1961, said Jackson did not consult the committee about the timing, circumstances and severance packages involved in the resignations.

On Sept. 3, Strotman and four other members of the six-person personnel committee wrote to the board of elders, a 23-person advisory group, calling for a vote of “no confidence” in Jackson. After the board chairman refused to call for a vote, several elders started a petition to press the issue, obtaining the 87 members’ signatures.

“The way many were lining up against me, I thought it best to leave,” Jackson said in the interview. He said he plans to take some time “to renew and reflect and actively explore another multicultural ministry” in the Washington area, perhaps as soon as next year.

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