For many years, Washington's hundreds of churches and the tens of thousands who attend them have played an important role in the city's social and political life.

The faithful and their families often are the bedrock of the community, They are often the stable influences in times of change, the regular voters and the reliable taxpayers.

Yesterday, on the last Sunday of the decade, the city's faithful gathered at area churches and reflected upon the past, the present and the promise of the future.

Jefferson Lewis III, a slim divinity student dressed in a black robe, stood in the red-carpeted pulpit of Shiloh Baptist Church and preached to the congregation about "Throwing Out Old Garments for New Ones."

"Let's throw out the old shoes of selfishness, the socks of apathy, the old ragged pants of self-righteousness, the blouse of deceit, the shirt of greed and the dress of hate," Lewis said, his voice rising and beads of sweat forming on his brow.

"Amen," members of the congregation shouted as they sat in their wooden pews.

"Let's slip into the socks of concern," Lewis shouted, "the shoes of compassion, the pants of virtue, the blouse of honesty, the shirt of generosity and the dress of love . . . Throw out the old clothes and put on the new ones. This is the challenge to us all."

After the sermon, Lewis, a 24-year-old student at the Colgate-Rochester Divinity School in Rochester, N.Y., said that the 1970s have been "a decade of individualism. I think the '80s will bring people together."

Lewis said such economic problems as inflation and unemployment have not affected his life, although "I realize that there are those who have been greatly affected. For some families, the whole issue of heating or eating this winter is a problem."

At Bible Way church in northwest Washington, where church members say they regularly feel the Holy Spirit and shout and clap their hands in spiritual fervor, Bishop Smallwood E. Williams prayed, Lord spare this world of World War III."

And then Williams, with one arm occasionally outstretched from his white-and-gold-colored robe and his head tilted to one side for emphasis, told the congregaion to fast and to pray.

"We're praying for the world we live in, we're praying for the hostages," he said, referring to Americans held captive in Iran.

"These are prophetic times we live in," he said, and his words were accompanied by "Amen" and "Yes, Lord" from the audience.

"This is the spirit of Armageddon,' Williams said, referring to the Biblical place where the last and decisive battles are to be fought between good and evil forces before Judgement Day. The Yes Lords and Amens increased in volume and in number.

"Armies are gathering throughout the world, the ayatollah is playing God, and the antichrist too, holding those hostages down there" Williams said. "All these things are satanically inspired to bring the world to fire. Things are so tense that the president got on the line the other day to talk to Brezhnev."

Leaning on a cane, Daisy Gardner stood outside Shiloh Baptist Church waiting for the church bus to take her to her Northeast home.

Gardner, who is 72, and diabetic, said she spent nine days this year in the hospital when "my sugar went up. Thank the Lord, he's seen me through."

"I try to keep on going," said Gardner, dressed in a fur coat and a brown tam. "Sometimes it looks like I'm not going to make it, especially when old Arthur (arthritis) comes to visit me. But I keep on going."

Gardner said her husband died three years ago. She lived around the corner from Shiloh Baptist for 31 years until 1969, when she moved because her house was taken to be used for school property.

She said she doesn't understand what has happened to the world, with inflation, high unemployment, the energy crisis.

"I think it's just a disgrace. It looks like things don't get any better. But I pray to the Lord to ask him why things are the way they are. He has the answers."

Gardner, who lives on a fixed income, said she doesn't have any special plans for New Year's Eve. "Sometimes you can plan and Lord can 'displan.'"

"The '70s decade has been one of many crises," said the Rev. Cecil Bishop to his congregation of John Wesley AME Zion Church. "The energy crisis . . . the crisis of our nuclear plants, the crisis of our fellow countrymen being held in Iran. One crisis after another."

"When we look back over the past years we reflect on the Vietnam War -- all of the ugliness and pain that was in the war; all of the multitude of difficulties that came out of the Watergate situation; the resingations of a president and vice president; the loss of confidence in our public officials as a result of Watergate; certain disclosures of how the government spied upon us and how J. Edgar Hoover used every trick possible to discredit people, especially Martin Luther King Jr.; and the ludicrous experience at Jonestown, where under the banner of religion, countless numbers of people were willing to take their own lives."

"Non-Christians wonder how can we endure all these things," said a Northeast Washington resident to a black dress and hat who sat in the basement of Bible Way Church. She was telling a friend and a visitor about some things she said she had to overcome during the past 14 years, including alcoholism and making ends meet for her family of three.

"We have to pray daily, sometimes three times a day and we have to fast." the woman said. "I fasted for my son to have the Lord save him. Now he's saved. I prayed for the Lord to heal my body, and he did that.

"God makes a way for us to endure the higher prices, the housing shortages and crime on the streets," she said. "We don't have to worry about stuff like that. Four neighbors homes were broken into, all around me, but they never touched my house. The neighbors asked why our house wasn't robbed. The Lord takes care of us. I pray when I go out, I pray when I come back. Why worry?"

For Ronald Palmer, the safe return of the Americans being held hostage in the U.S. embassy in Iran is his biggest wish for 1980.

Palmer, a 23-year foreign service officer with the State Department, said, "They (the hostages) are flesh of my flesh. Blood of my blood. It will be a very important moment for me as well as for the other Americans when they are released free."

Standing beside his uncle, Horace M. Roberts, outside of Shiloh, Palmer said Ann Swift, one of the hostages, is a friend. He said he encouraged her to study Farsi, the Persian language.

"I feel not only personally involved, but somewhat responsible for her being there," said Palmer, who has served as the U.S. ambassador to Togo.

During the early morning sermon at Bible Way church, the Rev. Wallace Williams, the bishop's son, preached from bible passages in Luke, Corinthians and James. He warned the congregation, quoting a biblical passage, "Take heed of yourself lest you become overcome with drunkenness and the cares of this life."

A middle-aged woman wearing a gray hat and dress and black-framed glasses closed her eyes when the preacher said, "Leave your burdens with the Lord." She nodded and said, "Thank you, Jesus," barely above a whisper. A frown masking some secret trouble creased her forehead.

Douglas Moorman, a Vietnam veteran who attended services at Shiloh, said, "I am just glad to have this whole decade behind me. It was trying."

Especially trying, Moorman said, were the 13 months he served in the Army in Vietnam. "A couple of my close friends were killed over there, I'm glad I got out alive."

Moorman, 36, who works as a hospital administrator in Indianapolis, and was visiting relatives here, said he is looking forward to "lots of peace, tranquility and happiness" in the 1980s.

Betty Duckett, a retired district government employe who lives in Oxon Hill, said she tried to forget the bad things that happened during the past decade. Mindful of the pastor's morning message, she said she was looking forward to the future.

"Oh, I sometimes think about Watergate, or the Vietnam War and things like that because they are all prophecies being fulfilled just like the Bible said," Duckett said.