This is the first of an occasional series on religious institutions in Montgomery County.
The congregation of the Ewe Church of America in Silver Spring is united at last.
In October, Trinity Congregational Church and the Ewe Church of Silver Spring merged to become the Ewe Church of America and held its first service at Colesville Presbyterian Church on New Hampshire Avenue.
But it wasn't until a few weeks ago that the congregation of immigrants from Ghana, Togo and Benin in West Africa gathered to celebrate the church's inauguration and officially install its pastor.
A sense of hope buzzed through the air as more than 300 people filled the pews and lined the aisles of the Presbyterian church that Sunday afternoon for a three-hour celebration of singing and prayer that heralded one theme: unity.
As the congregation sang joyfully with the maroon-and-white-robed choir and the sound of percussion filled the air, the disagreement and division that had led the two smaller congregations to break with their original church in Washington seemed to melt away.
"The centrality of unity is to forgive and forget," the Rev. Kennedy K. Odzafi told the crowd. "Make this church a homeland of unity. Let the past be bygones, and let us look forward."
The service centered around the theme "That they all may be one," with speakers focusing on the desire for reconciliation and a hopeful future for the church. Speakers often spoke in English and repeated their words in Ewe, the common language of the West African immigrants.
"Remember you are laying the foundation," said the Rev. John Yao Akoto, who had established a similar congregation in Atlanta. "As immigrants, we have problems all along the way. Oh, how we long for home. Oh, how we long to sing the songs of our motherland."
For participants, the healing words seemed to hold the promise of a bright future for the church. In Ghanaian tradition, many of those in attendance wore outfits, in both traditional and Western styles, that were sewn of a cloth designed especially for the occasion by a textile company in Ghana.
The yellow material was dotted with tiny blue starbursts and the church's emblem of an open book with a red cross lying between the pages and circled by the words, "Ewe Church of America USA."
"It's exciting. There was a schism, and people went various ways," said Loreen Wutoh, 41, of Mitchellville. "In the end, we are all one people. Divisions are being healed, and families are coming back together."
The tumultuous history of the Ewe Church of America began when a handful of people started the congregation in Lanham in 1982. Two years later, the growing congregation adopted the name Ewe Church of Washington and moved to the city. The next decade was fraught with challenges, including "identity crises, and pastoral, financial and leadership issues," according to the official church history.
The growing problems led to a split in the congregation in 1995, and many members decided to start their own congregation, Trinity Congregational Church in Washington.
In early 2002, the Trinity congregation moved to Silver Spring and began holding services at Colesville Presbyterian Church, which had offered to share its facilities. Efforts to reunite with the Washington congregation at first seemed promising but then fizzled.
Meanwhile, the Washington congregation's troubles continued. Odzafi, who was serving as a visiting pastor from Pennsylvania, took over when the church's pastor became ill. However, the leaders of the Washington church were negotiating to bring in a new pastor from Ghana. When the new pastor arrived, the Washington congregation protested the decision to replace Odzafi and many more members decided to leave.
They formed the Ewe Church of Silver Spring with Odzafi as their pastor and soon began the negotiations with the Trinity congregation that ended with the creation of the Ewe Church of America.
Since beginning services in October, the new church has drawn about 120 people each Sunday from suburban Maryland, Washington, Baltimore, Northern Virginia and as far as Delaware, Odzafi said.
The crowd at the inauguration more than doubled the regular attendance and included Ewe and Presbyterian church officials as well as Pascal Bodjona, Togo's ambassador to the United States.
Church financial secretary Samuel Wedzi, 56, of Germantown was pleased by the size of the crowd, which was larger than expected. With the problems of the past behind it, he said the congregation would focus on securing a building and becoming a chartered Presbyterian church.
But, Wedzi acknowledged, many members still hold hope for the possibility of reconciliation with the Washington congregation.
"The gates are open. We talk of forgiveness," he said. "We hope one day, not long, we will reconcile. Some of us feel very sad. As we do these things, we all should be one."