The blue Datsun 280 ZX pulled up to the corner of 14th and N Streets NW just after 2 a.m. The Rev. Vincent Allen, a Baptist minister, got out and walked casually over to the prostitute on the corner.
As he approached, a tape recorder swinging from his left shoulder and a microphone in his right hand, the woman became suspicious and started moving away slowly.
Before she could leave, Allen intorduced himself, explaining that the visit, and an interview he hoped she'd agree to, was part of his ministry.
"Are you for real?" she shot back incredulously. He is.
Since February, Allen has interviewed an average of 20 people a week about their attitudes on such things as drugs, gambling and unemployment. He has stopped laborers, doctors, lawyers, bus drivers, security personnel -- anyone whose opinion he wants for his work, and that includes just about everybody.
Allen is a graduate student in theology at Howard University. He is also copastor of the Upper Room Baptist Church, 60 Burns St. NE, with the Rev. Willie B. (Little) Allen, his father and the church's founder.
Both his father and late uncle, the Rev. Andrew (Big) Allen, are well-known in Northeast Washington, having founded several large congregations there. His uncle was pastor of the First Baptist Church of Deanwood for 30 years. The younger Allen, 26, has been preaching eight years.
The interviews, however, are for his religious broadcast, People's Pulpit, Sunday at 9 a.m. on WOL-AM, 1450.
He uses the taped comments in various ways, sometimes interspersing them with his sermon, other times airing them before or after the morning's message. The interviewees offer a kind of everyman's attitude about his subjects.
He is trying, he says, to provide a conduit between the church and the people and to convince the religious community that "Pulpit-and-armchair gospel is not enough."
The reactions he gets from people on the street confirm that belief. With the right approach, he says, religion can be taken anywhere. As an example, he recalled the night he had apprehensively approached a pimp leaning against the handrail of a darkened townhouse stairway near 14th Street NW. Sneering cynicism would best describe the man's attitude, Allen said.
Yet, when asked how the church could be more effective and more meaningful to him, his cooperation was surprising, Allen recalled. "By doing what you're doing," he said. "When you came up to me you didn't come with that 'holy-rolly' and 'hallelujah' stuff."
Had Allen begun sermonizing, he said, they would not have talked. The church should serve people in practical, tangible ways, the pimp said, by helping them meet their needs and informing them of available resources.
The pimp's and prostitute's views were included in a radio program. Lou Rawls' recording, "You've Got One Life to Live," played softly in the background.
Allen said he tries to attract young listeners, those he believes have been alienated by organized religion. The church has lost many young people to the temptations of the street, he said.
"This is tragic because there is so much negativity on the street: Young people dealing with dope because they have lost all hope. Women selling their bodies because they have nothing else to do, and people killing and hurting each other because they have no jobs to support their needs."
When he discovers specific needs, he tries to find government agencies and community service organizations that can help, he said.
By keeping in contact with and trying to help the people he meets, Allen believes the lines of communication between the pulpit and ordinary people can be strengthened. He said the need for dialogue and a bridge between the community and the church is what inspired him to start People's Pulpit seven months ago.
"I am trying to reach people," he said, "and hopefully those I am able to reach will be able to better relate to the church, join one of their choice and aid it in its mission."