Mark Langsan does not consider himself a religious man. But every day he slips out of his office at the General Services Administration to go meditate at nearby Western Presbyterian Church.
Langsan, an economist, says going to the church is "a way of being at peace with yourself for about 20 minutes a day."
Western Presbyterian, 1906 H St. NW, has become a refuge for many workers in nearby office buildings. Like Langsan, many visit the Gothic stone structure during lunch.
Beverly Finan, 37, who works across the street at the World Bank, also finds peace of mind.
"My visits can and have turned my attitude around," Finan says. "I can come here hyper and upset and leave calm."
Before she started goint to Western Presbyterian, Finan often visited the Corcoran Art Gallery on her lunch break, but the visits gave her no spiritual renewal.
She says the church makes her "feel close to God, although I am not a religious person."
Stone arches and wrought iron fixtures make the church's exterior imposing. But inside, light filters through stained-glass windows, creating an aura of tranquility.
Although the soft drone of the many table fans used to cool the church does little to muffle the constant hum of traffic and roar of planes, those within the church seem oblivious to the sounds.
"In the midst of all this concrete, there is a refuge," one frequent visitor says of the church.
Not all those who come to Western Presbyterian seek refuge. Many come to "read the Bible, pray and touch God," according to Karen Whitehead, a secretary at the Federal Home Loan Bank Board.
A sign outside the church announces it is open for prayer between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. weekdays. On Fridays, the resident pastor leads a short service. In winter, the church serves lunch after the service, and in summer, people bring bag lunches and eat in the church basement.
Senior church members, who sit in the entrance hall during lunch, say that apart from regular visitors there are many people just walking by who stop in for a few minutes.
According to the parishioners, people have even dropped notes to the church saying, "Thank God you are here."
"I don't know where I would go if they tore it down," says one regular visitor.
Keeping the church building from being torn down has taken will power and determination, long-time members say.
Although the congregation was established in 1855, the present structure was built in 1930. Since then, the architectural and demographic character of the area has changed dramatically.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) owns the rest of the block where the church is located. In the original model of the IMF building, the planners simply overlooked the fact that the church was there. When the church refused to sell its property, the IMF built around it.
Church officials seem quite content to have the IMF as a neighbor. A Fund official once reportedly said to a church trustee: "We need you for what you are and where you are."
George Washington Univerity, a major real estate holder in the area, has made many attempts to buy the Western Presbyterian building, which occupies some of the most valuable real estate in the city.
But the church has been able to survive the pressures partly because it is financially sound and because the building has been designated as a landmark.
Aside from the towering office buildings and GWU, Western Presbyterian's neighbors include two other congregations.
Two blocks away on 23rd Street is St. Mary's Episcopal Church. It was built in 1887 as a place where "black people could worship without being subjected to the discriminatory rules of white people at the time," according to a church brochure.
The red brick structure in late-Victorian style was built by James Renwick, a leading 19th century architect after whom the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery is named.
Like most other churches in the Foggy Bottom area, this building is a historic landmark, which ensures is survival.
The United Church on G Street, a block away from Western Presbyterian, is the result of a merger between the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church. The churches were forced to merge a few years ago because of dwindling congregations and the high cost of maintaining the old buildings that housed the churches.
Much of the present congregations of Foggy Bottom churches consist of people who have moved out of the area but who continue to return. So St. Mary's Episcopal and Western Presbyterian have opened up to a transient congregation of people who come on weekdays.
St. Mary's has two noon services a week. But because it is farther from the main business area and has no welcoming sign outside, it does not have as large a weekday attendance as Western Presbyterian.
Western Presbyterian thus remains the center of an almost secular phenomenon, daytime visitors who represent different nationalities and faiths.
For some, it is merely an architectural curiosity; for others, it is a house of worship and prayer. And for many visitors it is a sanctuary from the daily routine and tedium of their offices.