"It's a sad thing," said Henry Thomas.
"It's like the burying of a Christian," agreed fellow parishioner Lawrence Perry, as they chattedafter mass outside their church, Our Lady of Mercy, which closed its doors for the last time last Sunday.
The pleasant little church with its all-black membership was closed by the Washington Archidiocese, according to a statement from William Cardinal Baum, because of the effects of urban renewal on the neighborhood.
Construction work on Kenilworth Avenue, which is less than a block from the church's door, sharply restricts access to the church by residents of housing projects on the other side of the busy highway.
The Josephite order, which is committed to ministry to black Catholics and which has staffed the parish in recent years withdrew last July because of a shortage of priests in the order and the dwindling membership of the congregation, according to a statement from the order.
Shortly after that came the archdiocesan decision to close the church. Members will be asked to attend the Church of the Incarnation, another Josephite parish about a mile a way on Eastern Avenue.Parish records of baptisms, marriages and the like are being transferred to Incarnation.
In his statement to the parish, Cardinal Baum indicated that the decision to close the church was made on the basis of a study in which it was concluded that both "the people of the parish and the mission of the (total) church in the area will be better served through the neighboring parishes."
The Rev. John Hill, who has been serving Our Lady of Mercy as an ordained deacon, concurred with the decision to close the church.
"At some masses there were more of us on the altar than in the congregation," he observed. "It's just like with the Safeway or the A&P - it was costing us more than we were takding in. You can't runa railroad that way."
As deacon, Hill said, his duties were to "assist the priest at mass, distribute communion, visit the sick - what all deacons do." But in addition, he said, he had "been doing the janitor work, too, because we're too poor to have a janitor."
Hill said there were "85 families - about 190 people" - on parish rolls.
The Rev. John Tyne, who said mass for the parish each Sunday until his transfer to New Orleans last month, said that of the parish membership, "only five families live within walking distance of the church."
Nevertheless he lamented the passing of the parish."It was a small community and like a family," he said. "Everybody knew each other."