It was standing room only as the joyous throngs jammed the aisles of the United House of Prayer yesterday, waiting for more than an hour for the arrival of Bishop Walter (Sweet Daddy) McCollough.
Although it was hot inside, and the ushers had run out of hand fans, the crowd remained undaunted as they sang and rocked themselves to the sounds of gospel brass bands.
It was a special day for the church, headquartered at Sixth and M Streets NW, which was marking its 20th year under the charismatic and immensely influential man known by many members as Precious Daddy.
Because of his loyal following of more than 2,000 persons in Washington alone, Bishop McCollough's ability to inspire the masses has made many local politicians take note.
McCollough took over as head the United House of Prayer in 1960 after the death of the church's founder, Bishop C. M. (Sweet Daddy) Grace.
Started during the 1920s in tents and storefronts throughout the inner cities of the nation, the church now boasts of 75 mortgage-free Houses of Prayer. The headquarters is undergoing a $3.2-million addition, signaling the continuing revitalization of Washington's inner city.
"We've come a long way," Bishop McClough told his congregation yesterday.
"But we still have a great distance to go."
Yesterday's observance was part of a weekend of events that marked the church's past and saluted its present. On Saturday, several hundred church members and seven marching bands paraded through the streets of the Shaw community in honor of the founder, Sweet Daddy Grace.
The church has a controversial history. Many people once believed that Bishop Grace was simply taking advantage of poor people, using his magnetic personality to take their money. But much of that speculation has waned as evidence of the church's investment payoffs have become known.
The church currently has several housing projects under construction in North Carolina, Connecticut, New Jersey and Georgia. Similar projects are scheduled here.
With many of the church members who live in inner cities facing displacement because of housing renovations, McCollough has responded with construction of low-rent apartments for his congregation.
The church also owns a fleet of buses that transport members to religious revivals around the country.
The House of Prayer is one of a few churches built by a charismatic leader that has flourished after the death of that leader.
McCollough fondly recalled for his congregation yesterday how he became successor to Grace, who headed the church for 33 years.
McCollough among other things, had been Daddy Grace's chauffeur, he said, and they were out driving in New Bedford, Mass., when Grace told him to stop the car.
"I want you to get out and stand on that corner and tell it." McCollough recalled Grace telling him. "I had never been to New Bedford before. But he told me to get out on that corner and tell it and when I was finished telling it, then he'd get out and take over."
"Well, I got out, took my coat off and rolled up my sleeves and started preaching. I felt all alone," McCollough said. "Sweet Daddy was sitting in the car and nobody was around. Then people started gathering to see what all this was about and when a big crowd had gathered he stepped out of his car and took over -- preaching in a different language."
McCollough went on to explain that Grace taught him "everything I know. It's Daddy and me," the Bishop told 2,000. "When you see me, you know it's Daddy and me because it's Daddy in me. How do you feel about that?" he asked them.
"Good," the congregation shouted back.