A little after four o'clock yesterday afternoon, the deed to a half-million dollar church building in Anacostia passed from a dying Methodist church to an Episcopalian congregation which is thriving.
A freshly painted sign proclaimed what had once been the Anacostia United Methodist Church at 1345 U St.SE as the new Chapel of St. Philip the Evangelist. Members of the Episcopal congregation marched in joyous procession from their old building at 243 Shannon Pl. to claim their new church about 10 blocks away.
"This church was already dedicated 138 years ago to the service of Jesus Christ," observed the Rev. Dr. Levi Miller, district superintendent of the United Methodist Washington Central District as the handed over title to the red brick church in a brief creemony at the entrance.
St. Philip's, a predominantly black congregation, has long since outgrown that well-kept little building it occupied for 40 years. The new facilities will give the church more room for its dual program of congregational activities plus such community projects as a senior citizens center, a nutrition program and a Head Start center.
The predominantly white Methodist congregation dwindled as the racial complexion of the neighborhood changed, Miller explained in an interview. "They tried to reach out to the neighborhood but it was too late."
It became evident, said the United Methodist official, who is black, that "blacks in this area were not about to support this church."
When the Methodist learned of St. Philip's need for more space, they began negotiations aimed at preserving a Christian ministry in the neighborhood, albeit under a different label.
Both parishoners and diocesan officials give much of the credit for St. Philip's success to the Rev. Jesse Anderson, who has been vicar for three years.
St. Philip's explained Leila Clarke, who at 86 is the parish's senior member, "has always been a chapel. It's always been a stepping stone for priests. They'd come right out of school. They didn't have experience, and they'd feel their way along.
"But Father Anderson, he knew the ropes and he took the bull by the horns," she continued. "His father was a priest in Philadelphia before him. He's been able to put his arm around the youth and draw them in."
Anderson's full-time job is deputy director of youth services staff of the D.C. Department of Manpower and he also teaches.
The church has about 130 members and Father Anderson gives them credit for making things go. "When you've got a full-time priest, people stand back and say 'Let Father do it.' But here they know Father doesn't have time to do it so they all pitch in.
When Canon Charles Perry, executive officer of the Washington Episcopal Dioscese, handed Anderson the keys to his new chapel during yesterday's ceremonies, he in turn called Mrs. Clarke forward and handed them to her.
The hour-and-a-half service was a blend of solemn and joyous ceremony and folksy good humor. Near the end of the service Andreson introduced D.C. Councilwoman Nadine Winter of ward six where the chapel is located, as a "fellow Episcopalian."
In brief remarks, she called Anacostia an area "too long neglected" and expressed the hope that "clergy of all denominations" would work together "to make this a better ward."
Anderson estimates that about half his parishoners come from the immediate Anacostia neighborhood and that most of the rest are former neighborhood residents who come back on Sundays.
The Episcopalians bought the red brick structure on U Street from the Methodists in what both parties characterize as completely amicable negotiations. After the purchase price of $450,000 was agreed on, the Methodists knocked off another $10,000 to cover half the cost of needed repairs.