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Logan Circle Group Prays for Deliverance

Churchgoers hang special tags from their car mirrors.
Churchgoers hang special tags from their car mirrors. (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

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By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 5, 2006

Jason Powell fully expected hassles from city living -- the panhandlers, the litter, the prostitutes -- when he bought his Logan Circle rowhouse 18 months ago.

What he did not foresee was being unable to drive his Toyota on Sundays.

The reason: worshipers going to church.

In a long-standing practice outside congregations across the city, one largely ignored by police, parishioners routinely descend on neighborhoods on Sundays and leave their cars in crosswalks and on the yellow stripes in the middle of the street and block cars by double parking.

Powell and a cluster of neighbors have mounted a campaign to prod the District to enforce the regulations in Logan Circle, one that has angered clergy and their congregations and exposed tensions borne of a previously sleepy downtown that is now booming with new condominiums and residents.

"This church has been here since the 1800s, and they just moved here," Metropolitan Baptist Church member Joi Brown, 22, said on a recent Sunday morning after parking her gold Dodge on Vermont Avenue a few feet from a "No Parking" sign, with her left wheels resting on the concrete median.

Hers was among more than 50 illegally parked cars in the immediate area, many with Maryland and Virginia license plates, as their owners headed to services at Metropolitan and Vermont Avenue Baptist Church, the largest of four congregations in the neighborhood.

"It's just once a week," Brown said. "They're praising the Lord. Let it go."

Dee Hunter, chairman of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission that includes neighboring Shaw, home to a number of congregations, compared the residents' campaign to a "witch hunt" and said that much of the opposition "almost rises to the level of racism and religious persecution."

"What kind of society have we become when we are calling on police to write tickets on people who are going to worship?" he asked.

Residents say their complaints are rooted in a simple wish: to come and go as they please. Congregants, they say, block them in not only on Sundays, but also during weekday church meetings and funerals, sometimes parking in front of alleys and fire hydrants even when there are available spaces only a few blocks away. "People should have to abide by the same rules I do," said Powell, 30, a financial manager. "They shouldn't have more rights than I do, especially since I live here."

Washington is home to more than 600 congregations, many clustered in neighborhoods from Capitol Hill to Mount Pleasant to Georgetown. For as long as District officials and clergy can remember, traffic agents and police have generally accommodated worshipers by refraining from issuing tickets for parking illegally.


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