(TABLE) "If you want to see what Negro people have, look at their churces." -- The Rev. Andrew Fowler, Executive Secretary, Committe of 100 Ministers. (COLUMN)For generations, the church has been a steadfast institution at the heart of the black community. At the center of social, political, and spiritual life for many blacks, it exists as the focal point for guidance in day-to-day living. Some, especially the poor and elderly, see it as a second home. As such, its survival and perpetuation are of great importance to its members. (COLUMN)Part of that care is demonstrated by forgoing bigger and better temples, regardless of the sacrifice. When it hits, the building bug is often contagious, and voracious. And, it has hit Washington. (COLUMN)Long-time residents say the local black church community has plunged into one of the biggest building booms in recent memory. The Rev. Jerry Moore, both a City Council member and pastor of Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, is among those who have noticed "considerably more construction in the District's black churches in recent years." (COLUMN)The growth in black church membership and the relatively new willingness of local financial institutions to loan money to black groups are major factors, he said. Black churches now have better record-keeping systems than they did in the past, he said, and this, combined with D.C.'s large black population, "has made many lenders realize that the black dollar cannot be ignored." (COLUMN)With this newfound financial independence, black church groups are now able to do things they may only have dreamed of in the past, Moore said. (COLUMN)In the District, growth and change in the church are visible throughout the city, as black congregations purchase prime land and construct larger, more impressive buildings, many with total costs running into millions of dollars.Often, the money comes out of the pockets of those who can barely make ends meet at home. Yet they continue to give, their generosity spurred on by fellow church members and, of course, by their ministers. The minister has always been accorded a special place within the black community. Usually seen as both a learned man and a leader, it is often his personality which lends the primary shape and character to his church. Many in black churches everywhere see their minister's continued happiness as a reflection on themselves, and take great pains to ensure it. (COLUMN)In one D.C. church, the congregation has been asked to give extra money each week to underwrite the cost of the pastor's vacation. Another group bought, and routinely replaces, the furniture in its minister's home. Members of a third congregation are often asked to help their pastor make his monthly car payments. (COLUMN)The litany of preachers' perks goes on and on, yet people close to the black church in Washington say it does not inflate their egos. (COLUMN)"I have trained most of this city's Baptist ministers," the Rev. Andrew Fowler, pastor of Capitol View Baptist Church, said. "I know their heartbeat, the way they think and feel, and I would say the most of them are truly about the business of the church." Fowler says the role of the black minister, as an instructor, counselor and spiritual guidepost, is laced with complexities by virtue of the diverse population he must reach. And he adds that it is the minister who, more than any other professional in the black community, has tangible evidence of his service. (COLUMN)"More than anyone else -- the lawyer, doctor, schoolteacher -- it is the Negro preacher who has the most to show for his service. Look at how some of Washington's ministers have led their congregations to put millions of dollars into Christian education, for example. You won't find a doctor who has led people to make that kind of a contribution toward the improvement of mankind." (COLUMN)Yet, Fowler does not totally back away from a troubling notion: that ministers are encouraging their congregations to build, and recruit new members, not only for the sake of the church, but also out of a sense of competition. (COLUMN)"Well, of course, there is an element of competition in every living soul," Fowler acknowledges. "Building is a part of what the church ought to be about, but it should not interfere with the basic tenets of worship. Yet, I confess there are some cases where it does interfere." Others are reluctant to admit to a competitive streak, saying that they build new churches only when it is necessary, and only with the support of their congregations. (COLUMN)Among many of these congregations, it is a tradition to build using money donated by the members. Fund-raising methods used by some churches, suppers, raffles and trips, are viewed as unsuitable. (COLUMN)More than 2,200 people are on the membership rolls of the Rev. John D. Bussey's Bethesda Baptist Church. The congregation moved into its new, $1 million headquarters at 1808, Capitol Ave. NE about 18 months ago. And, Bussey notes with pride, the new building was in large part constructed with the contributions of about 1,100 Bethesda members. (COLUMN)"We preach the Biblical way -- tithes and offerings -- and it's just a case of convincing people through Scripture and from example," he says. His congregation consists mostly of middle-and low-income people, many of whom are or have been on welfare, he says. But some of the poorest church members tithe, he said, "because I tell them that they can't afford NOT to. If you have nothing, then you give nothing. tIf you have a little, you give a little, and if you have a lot, then it follows that you will be more generous in your contribution. "Some of our former welfare recipients tithed, even if they had to save a few dollars out of that welfare, check to do it. And I tell them that they've come up from that (welfare) because they've honored the Lord." (COLUMN)"Giving is the method for promoting the work of the church," the Rev. R. L. Patterson of Mr. Carmel Baptist Church, said. His 1,000-member congregation, currently meeting in temporary headquarters at 2211 Varnum St. NW, is rebuilding in its former site at 3rd and I streets NW. The new sanctuary and educational building will cost $1.2 million. (COLUMN)The Mt. Carmel congregation razed a huge Gothic structure they had occupied since 1914 because it needed extensive repairs, Patterson said. Since the lowest estimate for repairs was more than $1 million, he felt that it would have been "unwise to put that much money into an old building which would still have been old." (COLUMN)He adds with a note of pride that his congregation raised more than $700,000 of the construction costs "with no dinners, tickets or raffles." The Rev. and D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy's congregation at New Bethel Baptist Church broke ground for their new $1.5 million building last September. The Rev. James H. Jones, assistant pastor of the church, says the new church should be completed by Thanksgiving. The congregation, temporarily housed at 15th and Irving streets NW, is rebuilding in their former site at 9th and S streets NW. The old building, which they had occupied from 1915 to 1976 "was so run down it had been condemned," he said. (COLUMN)The congregation is made up of about 2,000 mostly middle income people, Jones said. Between 300 and 500 attend church regularly and raised about $700,000 of the estimated $1.5 million construction costs "through tithes and offerings. This is God's given way for supporting a church," he said, adding that the congregation is very excited about the project. "Everyone," said Jones "loves a new church." (COLUMN)The 3,000-member congregation of Bible Way Pentacostal Evangelistic Church used various fund-raising methods to help offset construction costs. Now in the midst of building a $3 million temple next to their church at the corner of New York and New Jersey avenues NW, their pastor, Bishop Smallwood E. Williams, says, "There is nothing wrong with allowing people to do industrious." (COLUMN)He calls Bible Way a "total church" with seven Sunday services, as variety of educational programs, young adult services, auxiliaries and an employment service for neighborhood youths. "I don't want people thinking about how much this place costs every time they come in here to pray," he says. "You know, a church that's totally wrapped up in itself is tragic." (COLUMN)His church decided to build only because the congregation grew, Williams said. "The decision to build depends on the needs of the church. It's not wise to build an ornate building just to call it yours . . . I don't hold with building out of pride. But yes, some pastors do get carried away. There are extremes." (COLUMN)He notes the renaissance in Washington's central city, and adds "we've been here in the downtown D.C. for so long that we've got to be a part of that." (COLUMN)At popular Metropolitan Baptist Church, which is at 12th and R streets in Northwest Washington., everyone says that termites, a weak-foundation and the need for major repairs are all part of the reason they're building a new $2.2 million church. Samuel Reynolds, president of Metropolitan's building committee, said renovation is not possible because the current building is "functionally obsolescent." The decision to rebuild in the same site was two-fold, he added. (COLUMN)"We are in a 100-year-old building whose design and structure are not compatible with our needs, and the building simply is not structurally sound enough to warrant extensive rehabilitation." (COLUMN)The largely affluent 3,000-to 4,000-member congregation seems unified in its desire to complete the church as quickly as possible, and many say only the last-minute money details and the search for a minority contractor need to be settled before construction begins. (COLUMN)"They're practically pushing me, Reynolds says with a hearty laugh. "Not a week goes by when someone doesn't ask me, 'What can I do next? When do we start?' We've known this was coming for at least 10 years. The decision to build wasn't a spur of the moment thing, and we're totally committed to seeing this project through." That commitment is obvious in one group of Metropolitan members, the Walking 100. Designated by their pastor, the Rev. H. Beecher Hicks Jr., group members spend part of their free time canvassing other church members and friends, seeking pledges to the group's building fund. By and large, they feel they have been given a special duty. (COLUMN)Mr. and Mrs. Harry T. Boyd and their daughter Kim, who live on the border of Northwest Washington Gold Coast have been members of the church since they moved to the District from Virginia in 1961. They are proud of their church and eagerly agreed to become members of the Walking 100. (COLUMN)"I could talk to you for a week about the things I love about Metropolitan," Queen Boyd said. "The church has done so much for us that we plan to take an active part in it as long as we are financially and physically able. (COLUMN)"It's important," she says of the Walking 100 program, "Because we want the financial institutions we approach to know that we're serious about this building -- that there is a commitment throughout the church to this project." On the other side of town, another Baptist congregation is severely divided about building a new church. (COLUMN)Israel Baptist Church has been in Northeast Washington for 100 years. Many of its low-and moderate-in-come members are senior citizens and direct descendants of the church founders. They are proud people pleased not only with their church, but its location and the community it serves. (COLUMN)Four years ago, the pastor and trustees of Israel Baptist paid $250,000 in cash for a parcel of land at Saratoga and Brentwood roads NE, about a 10-minute drive away, where they hope one day to build a $2 million church. Many longtime members are broken hearted. (COLUMN)Sadie Robinson has been a member of the church for 76 of her 85 years. Her father laid the buildings cornerstone. Her mother was in the choir. Four generations of her family still belongs to Israel Baptist, and she is vehemently opposed to moving the church. "I'll never attend the new church," she says resolutely. Her heart is solidly rooted in the existing church. ". . . I love it more than I love my home . . . When I heard they were planning to leave, it made me sick." (COLUMN)The Rev. Raymond Robinson, who has been Israel's pastor for 33 years, says the new church will be built "with the idea of having a place adequate to our needs." He added that the congregation has known for more than 20 years that the move would be necessary. (COLUMN)They're going to do what they want to do," Irene Howard, an Israel member of 39 years says in a weary voice. I feel like we're being kicked out of the place where we serve God." (COLUMN)She recalls hard times during the Depression when founding members would pool their resources each Monday to make sure that the church's mortgage payment was made. Among those early strugglers were Lena Dyson's parents. (COLUMN)"My mother made many a sacrifice so that we could keep that building," Dyson said. "Everything did back then. They worked hard to save it, pay its debts and carry forth its responsibilities. I was heartbroken when I realized what the pastor and the trustee wanted to do." (COLUMN)The ground breaking date for the new Israel Baptist church has not been set. Although church members, some 800 to 900, have the land, and paid cash for it, not enough money has been raised to obtain financing. Trustees have discussed issuing bonds in $250, $500 and $1,000 denominations to church members and friends, and one member says she and others have been asked to make individual monthly donations of $200 to the building fund. (COLUMN)"Now could YOU give $200 a month to your church?" she asked a reporter. "So many of us are old, and if we're not poor, we're certainly on fixed incomes. What they're asking is impossible. It's a terrible hardship." f "I don't know what's come over these black Baptist ministers," said another. "They seem to be filled with unrest and a desire for these new, larger churches. But we are simple people here. We haven't the need for such a fancy church." (END TABLE) CAPTION: (TABLE) Pictures 1 through 3, The Rev. Walter Fauntroy and his $1.5 million New Bethel Baptist Church in progress; the Rev. John D. Bussey, pleased with his new $1 million Bethesda Baptist Church; the Rev. H. Beecher Hicks Jr., pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church, plans to build a new $2.2 million church; Picture 4, Harry, Queen and Kim Boyd, urge others to give toward Metropolitan's $2.2 million building fund. Emma Patton, and Marie Johnson chat with them Sunday. Photos by Rick Reinhard for The Washington Post (END TABLE)