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Church Has Bigger Location, Bigger Plans

Reid Temple Is the Latest Example of a Prince George's Congregation That Outgrew Its Facilities

By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 23, 2004; Page PG14

The main Sunday service at Reid Temple AME Church doesn't start until 11:15 a.m., but often worshipers arrive a lot earlier than that to get a space in the parking lot and avoid having to park on a street blocks away.

Getting to the 7:15 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. services might mean rising at the crack of dawn, and even snagging a parking space does not guarantee a seat in the sanctuary of what has become one of Prince George's County's most crowded churches.

The Rev. Lee P. Washington stands in the 3,000-seat sanctuary of Reid Temple's new $28 million building in Glenn Dale. "I was turned down 22 times, but this time the banks came to us," Washington said. (Larry Morris -- The Washington Post)

But all of that will soon be over.

In another example of the county's expanding faith community, Reid Temple is poised to move into a $28 million complex on Greenbelt Road in upscale Glenn Dale, not far from its old building in Lanham. Reid Temple joins a growing number of churches in the county that have abandoned small spaces for bigger and grander locations.

The Rev. Lee P. Washington, who has been pastor of Reid Temple for 22 years, will lead his 5,000-member congregation to its new 3,000-seat home on Sunday.

"I was turned down 22 times, but this time the banks came to us," Washington, 56, said in an interview from his new building last week. "They understand the power of the church. It is a partnership."

As is the custom with so many churches, Reid Temple's members chose the Christmas season to give thanks for their good fortune and to acknowledge their blessings.

"The birth of Jesus was good news to those who were social outcasts and oppressed," Washington, said adding that he hopes his new church's location, like its old one, will continue to be a friend to the community. "At Christmas, we are making a universal appeal for all persons to come and have an opportunity for their lives to be changed."

Churches have long used the winter holidays to make big changes , such as moving into new buildings or rolling out new ministry programs. The holidays also give them a chance to showcase their members' musical and theatrical talents.

Members of one county church picked this holiday season to recognize one of their greatest achievements: paying off their building's mortgage.

"Despite all we have been through, we are still blessed and highly favored by the Lord," said the Rev. Betty P. Peebles, senior pastor of Jericho City of Praise in Landover. "It was a little scary telling people that we were going to pay off the mortgage in seven years."

Jericho City of Praise's 19,000-member congregation obtained the mortgage after raising seed money to build its arena-size church in Landover. Like Reid Temple, the church had outgrown its previous location in Northeast Washington and looked to the bank to help them build a new one. Last week, as church members sat proudly in their $36 million building, Peebles, with help from Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, burned the financial documents that comprised the church's mortgage.

"Churches down through time have built marvelous buildings, but the legacy that she leaves is one of a debt-free facility," said Bobby Henry, Jericho's legal counsel.

Long History at Reid

Reid Temple is seven years away from burning its mortgage, but the mood among members these days is nevertheless celebratory.

Like Jericho, Reid Temple hails from humble beginnings. Founded in 1961 in Bladensburg, the church is an outgrowth of Dent Chapel, whose mixed congregation dates to 1900. Dent Chapel was first located in Bladensburg, then moved to Washington in the early 1960s after repeated flooding problems at the Bladensburg site.

The remaining black members fortified their church by bringing in new members under its longtime bishop, Frank M. Reid Sr., for whom the church was renamed in 1963. The church flourished, and in 1990, it moved from the District to an understated brick building with bright, stained-glass windows in a quiet residential neighborhood in Lanham. The location, with 750 seats and adequate parking lot, offered more than enough space for the church's 300 members. Or so they all thought.

As Reid Temple's ministry started to grow, so did its membership. In time, the church, following the practice of others, began to worship in shifts on Sundays -- 7:15 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11:15 a.m. and 6 p.m. At times, the Sunday services were so crowded, some churchgoers were forced to stand and park blocks away from the church.

Reid Temple's new location will fix the overcrowding.

Like other churches that have moved, Reid Temple's new home is spacious. The contemporary building, which sits on 30 acres, looks like a conference center, with only its circular stained glass over the entrance to distinguish it as a church. Inside, the space is grand, with rows and rows of pews, plush carpeting and a 300-seat choir loft. The building also boasts a topnotch sound system and lighting, administrative offices, class and meeting rooms, an education and music wing, a senior center and a child care center.

Eventually, the church will build housing for senior citizens.

"If you remain faithful to the church, there ought to be a place where you can retire with dignity," Washington said.

Reid Temple's large space was planned to accommodate the many services the church offers, including its financial program, which centers around the church's credit union.

"We have a fivefold vision for our church that deals with economics, education, expansion, empowerment and evangelism," Washington said.

That combination of spiritual and practical services is what attracted Karen Pope Onwuke, a Hyattsville lawyer and church trustee, to Reid Temple.

"I was unemployed, divorced and dealing with many personal issues. That's how people come to Reid Temple," said Onwuke, also a political activist. "People support a church when they know that it's making a difference in their lives."

Offering More Than Worship

As he showed a visitor around his new church last week, Washington beamed with pride. His church's new location sits on a prime piece of land near modest ranchers, sprawling Colonials and mini-mansions.

The owners of these big new homes, and the church's longtime worshipers from Prince George's and the District, helped raise the money to get the new church off the ground.

Now the church is here, and Washington is grateful that his church is able to offer more than Sunday worship.

He wants Reid Temple, like other churches in the county, to become a caretaker for the community, a place where people can go for spiritual as well as practical help.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company