Charles McCurdy used to have to spend $8 on Sundays to take a taxi from Crystal City to his church in downtown Washington. But since Metrorail began Sunday service a year ago, McCurdy makes the same trip to St. Paul's Episcopal Church in less time and, with his senior citizen discount, for only 30 cents.
McCurdy is one of about a dozen members of his Foggy Bottom church who now take the subway to get to Sunday worship services.
Metrorail has had a varying impact on local churches since Sunday service was inaugurated with a worship service at Metro Center 13 months ago. Downtown churches that draw their members from all over the area report that anywhere from a handful to a large segment of their congregations travel by subway. But the pastors of six suburban churches near subway stops who were surveyed said the effect has been negligible.
The big gainers, though, are churches close to subway stops that attract tourists. Now, spokesmen say, up to 30 percent of their visitors travel to church by subway.
Ironically, many downtown congregations report that they see more subway riders at their weekday events -- lunchtime services, seminars and concerts and evening meetings -- than on Sundays. In some cases, ministers report, up to 40 percent of their congregations take Metro to weekday services.
But on Sundays, most pastors said, churchgoers generally still prefer their cars to the subway because of the ease of finding a parking spot downtown, the expense of transporting entire families by subway and the "late" Sunday opening time of Metrorail.
Most Protestant churches hold services at 9:30 and 11 a.m. and Catholic churches schedule masses from 8 a.m. until noon. Because the subway does not begin operating until 10 a.m. on Sundays, those attending early services or Sunday school cannot use it.
And at Calvary Baptist and First Congregational United Church of Christ, for instance, no one can use the subway because services or Sunday school begin before 10.
"There is a feeling of bitterness among a few clergymen about the Sunday Metro schedule," said the Rev. George Hall, pastor of Calvary Baptist at Eighth and H streets NW. "We know that the hours were set to accommodate RFK Stadium and football. They didn't ask us which hours we'd prefer."
In the last year, Sunday subway service probably has had the greatest impact on attendance at Sunday concerts at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Conveniently located next to the Brookland station, the Shrine is drawing up to 30 percent more people to the concerts than a year ago, according to spokesmen there, and nearly all the additional people are coming by subway.
Up to 20 percent of those going to St. Matthew's Roman Catholic Cathedral on Sundays, including many tourists, now take the subway, according to the Rev. John Gigrich, assistant pastor there. Gigrich said the tourists often ask how to take the subway to go to museums or the Shrine after mass.
Some clergy, disappointed that more churchgoers are not using the subway, have begun encouraging greater ridership. The Rev. Edgar Romig, pastor of the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, said he promotes the subway when he speaks informally to church members. The church also prints the Metro logo and the name of the nearby Metro Center station in church correspondence. Romig reports that up to 20 percent of his congregation now takes the subway on Sundays.
On weekdays, however, Romig said that up to 40 percent of those attending lunchtime communion services and concerts travel by subway.
Other local Episcopal churches encourage subway use by including the name of the nearby Metro stops in their newspaper advertisements.
"Downtown churches always have been supportive of public transportation," said the Rev. John Steinbruck, pastor of Luther Place Memorial Church. "I think that perhaps some clergymen had hoped [Sunday subway service] would dramatically increase church attendance, but that wasn't a major factor for most of us."