Near the 14th Street corridor, on Columbia Road NW, amid rundown houses and apartment buildings, stands Calvary United Methodist Church.
To neighborhood youth, the church is a place they can go where someone cares. To the adults, it's a place to address social concerns.
The church's minister, the Rev. Mamie A. Williams, 28, ses herself more as a guardian of the 1400 block of Columbia Road than as a religious figure.
She said that she cares more that neighborhood children regularly attend school than her Sunday service, that she prefers they master selfdiscipline and self-worth rather than religious doctrine and that she would rather see adults register to vote than contribute to her church.
Regular attendants at her single Sunday service would fill only three or four of the more than 30 church pews. Williams says she does not mind.
Ministering to ghetto dwellers is different, Williams said. "You're dealing with a depressed, frustrated group of persons. The majority of this neighborhood is not active in churches. They feel they do not have the proper clothes to wear. They believe churchgoers are working people and have a higher level of education than themselves," she said.
"We have to offer them something here," she said. "We have only about 45 active members here, but last year I ministered to over 1,500 people."
"Our concern is not so much for the Methodist Church," said Dr. Levi B. Miller, United Methodist Church district superintendent, "as for the human beings in that (Columbia Road) community. When people see that a church speaks to their particular needs, then they will join that church."
Miller said he tries "to enforce in their (the community's) minds that they should fight for the services normally provided to a responsible community," such as trash collection, street cleaning and police protection.
After a typical service, the small group of regular attendants gather around Williams. The children push to be near her. She knows their names and even chastises a few for misbehaving, and then she gives the six or seven children sugar-free candy.
The children and teens affectionately call her "Reverend Mamie." She offers the only discipline in many of their lives. "I have this thing, if anybody gets out of line, I spank tails. But nobody else better touch them," she said.
"She (Williams) is engaged in a remarkable community outreach ministry," Miller said. "That church accommodates almost every community activity. The building is open at least 12 hours every day to the community."
Miller and two or three white-haired members of Calvary Church can remember when the church overflowed with 100 to 200 people at Sunday services.
"Twenty years ago, this was a very strong church with over 1,000 members -- all white," Miller said. "The area was made up of mostly white, middle-class apartment dwellers. In the '60s, the community began to change rapidly as these people moved out into the suburbs. And the squeeze on black people was so tight that blacks were moving into any vacancy in the city area. Many ended up in the Columbia Road area."
"But the city and the church stood still," Miller said. "Nothing of consequence happened to relate that church to the new developments of the community. There were now absentee landlords who provided no maintenance to the overcrowded living facilities. The church at that time was not able to deal with these matters."
Then the church experimented. A black was chosen to serve as "sort of an assistant minister," Miller said. During the civil rights movement of 1967 and 1968, the church appointed a black minister. "But it was too late," Miller said.
Church membership continually dropped, and three years ago "we discussed whether we should sell the church," Miller said.
"Then two years ago, I arranged for Rev. Williams to come. She was a student at Wesley Seminary, and she had done a good job. She is slowly rebuilding a congregation. And that takes a great deal of effort," Miller said.
Williams' style of ministry is attractive to her neighborhood, Miller said. "They're hoping the church will be resurrected as a viable institution in that part of Washington."
One way Williams and Miller believe in building a congregation is to serve the needs of the people. The Latin Connection does just that.
The Latin Connection is a group of 35 local Hispanic and black teen-agers who come to the church's dingy basement gymnasium every day after school to learn boxing. They are taught by Jose Correa who founded the Palmer Park boxing team in Prince George's County and there was the first coach of Olympic champion Sugar Ray Leonard.
"This is a way for the guys to find themselves," said Correa, who volunteers his time. "They would probably be on the corner or into drugs, if they aren't coming here. Now they've decided they want to excel -- to be the champion in their weight division. But they're not in this to stay off street corners. This is what they want to do."
According to Williams, there is a similar daily basketball program for area youth.
The Calvary Church facilities also are rented or lent to groups such as a Montessori school, a drama group and boy scouts and girl scouts. The church also has rented lodging space to Iranian student protesters and the Youth March for Jobs during their Washington visits.
In reference to these activities, Williams said, "This is part of our ministry also."
Williams, who was reared a Baptist in South Carolina, joined the United Methodist Church in the ninth grade. One year later, she said, she knew her vocation "was in the church." Her friends jokingly called her "the bishop," she said.
Williams said she has not been discouraged by those who do not favor women in the ministry, although she admits she has not felt much prejudice. "But that's me. Somebody else might be bothered," she said.
"I just don't worry about things," Williams said. "That's my motto: I don't worry, and I don't carry around a lot of extra baggage."