Members of two District churches marched together last week to reflect on the discriminatory practices that drove them apart 175 years ago.
About 45 marchers from Mount Zion United Methodist Church on 29th Street NW and Dumbarton United Methodist Church on nearby Dumbarton Street in Georgetown walked from Dumbarton to Mount Zion on Dec. 28.
They said they wanted to mark not only the separation of congregations and the founding of Mount Zion in 1816, but also the renewed togetherness the churches are striving for.
It was in 1816 that a group of blacks -- both freed and slaves -- left Dumbarton Avenue Methodist Church to protest insults and "un-Christianlike treatment" by white worshipers.
The black congregation was allowed to sit only in the church's balcony, and black members could not be ordained.
The breakaway group began worshiping at a new church called the Meeting House, on what is now 27th Street NW, near P Street.
Sixty-four years later, the much-enlarged congregation was renamed Mount Zion.
From the inception of the Meeting House to 1864, the two churches shared pastors. The first black pastor arrived in 1864, and each church then had its own pastor. After 1968, they grew closer.
Both churches began examining their relationship and began having joint services and joint mission projects.
But "our times together have been fewer and fewer," said Melinda Beard, a 25-year-old member of the Dumbarton congregation, "and maybe out of this evening it will change."
Beard recalled that in the 1970s the congregations worked together to clean up and replant the Mount Zion Cemetery, then worked together to prevent its takeover by developers.
The issue became "a focal point for life together," she said.
For Carter Bowman Jr., 68, a trustee and fourth-generation member of Mount Zion United Methodist Church, the meaning of the march was heightened by the fact that many family members still live in Georgetown, and his grandfather and great-grandfather were born in Georgetown.
The Rev. Kirk Monroe Sr., pastor of Mount Zion, said the purpose of the occasion was to "re-create history and go beyond history" through a unified effort of the two United Methodist churches.
The year of the walkout was a time of ferment among black churchgoers. Various Methodist African Societies met in Philadelphia and established the African Methodist Episcopal Church as an independent national organization.
Members from separate black churches established in Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey had pushed to free themselves from sitting at the rear of the churches, for example, where they sometimes had to watch the service through eyeholes cut into a wooden screen.
The two Washington churches have talked about ways to do things together, and "the walk was the first thing," said Larry Medsker, chairman of the Social Concerns Committee at Dumbarton.
Janet Ricks, chairwoman for the 175th anniversary year and a Mount Zion member for almost three years, said that events such as a banquet, a festival, prayer breakfast and a historical program for young people in the church are being planned for the year.
Although they are remembering the history of the slaves separating from the mother church, members are looking to rejoice that "things have changed today," Ricks said.