A few blocks away from the Brightwood Park United Methodist Church, a Georgia Avenue street scene is being played out: Pedestrians dart into soul food carry-outs and children furiously pedal bicycles through the streaming, noisy traffic.
But at Eighth and Jefferson streets NW, it is the red-brick church, looming like a gentle giant, that attracts the attention of residents who laze on the front porches of their single-family homes or push baby strollers up and down the narrow streets.
Just seven years ago, few residents were aware of the "church on the corner," said Manila H. Boyd, chairman of missions at Brightwood. "Now everyone knows where it is."
That change, according to some residents, is due in large part to a conscious effort by the church and its pastor, the Rev. Alfonso J. Harrod, to make the most of the changes occurring in the neighborhood itself.
In earlier years, the Brightwood community was a predominantly white, conservative enclave. But several years ago, with white flight to the suburbs, the neighborhood began changing into an area populated by black, middle-class families. As the changes occurred, Brightwood Church began losing ground, with church membership declining sharply.
In 1972, when Harrod became pastor at Brightwood, the church finally began catching up with neighborhood changes. The result, according to the residents, was the rebirth of Brightwood as a viable community church.
Harrod said the key to the successful transformation was an "open door policy" that refocused the direction of the ministry. As a first step, Harrod said he decided to abandon the rigid, dogma-ridden structure of Methodism in favor of a "now-oriented" gospel.
It was the beginning of the church's transformation "from the structure of Bach, beethoven and Brahms. Strictly liturgical," says Harrod. "I did a real study of that and looked at all the people around here. We saw there was a need for this liturgy to be in a black experience. Then we bought in . . ." he searches for a word and chuckles, "flexibility of form."
The purpose of the new focus, he said, was to attract community residents to Christianity through the church's self-help activities, which emphasize Christian principles, social concerns, recreation and education.
"Harrod has done a lot to make the community feel welcome," said Marion Tyler, a current church member who was there during Brightwood's lean years. "And when I say the community, I mean next-door neighbors, people down the street, the school. He opens the church up for worship and recreation."
Neighbors contend that broken families have been reunited through the use of Christian study classes and church social events. Church-sponsored drug abuse, alcoholism and mental health counseling programs have helped many, they said.
Year-round home economics classes and summer tutorial classes serve both youth and adults.
A repainted school bus, dubbed the "Blue Goose," transports volunteers bearing food baskets, clothes and friendship to homes throughout the city and to institutions, such as Forest Haven in Laurel, Md., the city's facility for the mentally retarded.
In 1977, Brightwood citizens honored the church with a plaque "for outstanding achievement in program development."
Harrod, a roly-poly man with a quick wit and an "ecumenical faith," said he came to Brightwood to establish a church "that meets the needs of people where they are." Later he was joined by an assistant pastor, the Rev. William Stroman Jr.
The ministers recalled that during the lean years they would rope off half the seats in the main sanctuary to encourage the few Sunday worshipers to sit up front. All the while Harrod joyfully insisted, "'Strom, the Lord's going to have them lined up around the walls one day,'" Stroman said.
"I'm not going to say I didn't get shaky sometimes," Stroman admitted. "I did!"
Then gradually, Sunday attendance increased from about 25 worshipers a week to more than 200, nearly one-fourth of them young people. Dozens of local youths, attracted by the open-door policy, joined church activities.
"When we came here in 1972, we came because this church was selected among 10 central city churches (throughout the Washington-Baltimore region) for renewal to become fruit-bearing, soul-winning churches," Harrod said.
At the time, several Methodist churches, such as Brightwood, were either empty or up for sale because membership had declined so drastically, Harrod said.
"What's wrong with Methodism?" Methodist conference members asked. They decided, said Harrod, that "perhaps we had the wrong focus."
Two years ago, Conrad Parker, of Maryland, was invited to the church by a friend. After attending services, Parker decided to become a permanent member. He now is a youth leader at the church.
"The thing that really impressed me about Brightwood was that it was open to the community," said Parker.
His former church was very institutional, he said. "Everything was restricted to members of the church. But (Brightwood) bubbles over with enthusiasm, and they bring you in. They're not snobbish."
Harrod describes Brightwood's focus as "becoming aware of the will of God and the strength of evangelism. As we strive to be the church, we want to be open to respond in love and concern.
"There is a large returning to the church," Harrod said, "but not as it was . . . not the institutional church.
"Jesus is still alive. He's now. But I think we have to interpret the Gospel in terms of today." CAPTION: Picture 1, The Rev. Alfonso Harrod, pastor of Brightwood Park United Methodist Church, and Manila Boyd, membership secretary. By Craig Herndon - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) and participants in the Year of the Child parade sponsored by Brightwood Church. By Michael Ford Parks - The Washington Post