The word came before the rising of the sun.
At 2 a.m. Saturday and again at 3 a.m. yesterday, Bishop Walter McCollough of the United House of Prayer for All People -- whose followers include several thousand D.C. residents -- delivered his long-awaited word on which candidates he would bless with endorsements in the city's political races.
And for Mayor Marion Barry and City Council member David A. Clarke, the word was good.
Both Barry and the candidate shown by early polls to be his chief rival, Patricia Roberts Harris, had waited with some 3,000 worshipers throughout Friday night to hear from "Sweet Daddy" McCollough, as he is affectionately known within the church.
Two hours past midnight, the blessing was pronounced and sealed with a hug.
The three candidates for City Council chairman -- Clarke, incumbent Arrington Dixon and former chairman Sterling Tucker -- had also waited into the small hours of Saturday morning for the bishop's word.
But their time was not yet at hand.
The candidates for chairman had to come back to "God's White House" -- the church's headquarters at 601 M St. NW -- on Saturday night. Again, the church was filled to overflowing.
McCollough preached and prayed, and at 3 a.m. Sunday announced to the surprise of many in the congregation that he was going to vote for Clarke, who is making an uphill bid to become chairman of the council.
"I'm going to stir things up," the bishop told the crowd moments before endorsing Clarke, according to a spokesman. He then embraced Clarke, the spokesman said, while Clarke's two opponents glumly sat by.
Clarke, clearly elated by the endorsement, later called it "a great uplift to my campaign. A person so respected by many citizens of the city, to have his endorsement is not only an honor but a blessing." Clarke, who is white, said the support of the predominantly black church showed "that the problems of racial distrust are not insurmountable."
Dixon said he was disappointed and puzzled. "We worked with the bishop to help him in his efforts to provide housing for the needy and other matters, and I know of no reason that he had any problems with our leadership. He is a responsible religious leader in this city."
Tucker could not be reached for comment.
As he prepared to deliver his mayoral endorsement, McCollough ceremoniously entered the church at about 1 o'clock Saturday morning, accepting money from the outstretched hands of worshipers as he made his way along the aisle.
Harris had hoped for McCollough's endorsement to offset the series of endorsements Barry has won from the city's politicians and community leaders, including the pastors of most other prominent D.C. congregations.
But instead, McCollough praised Barry for helping him with plans to build housing in the city.
"This mayor did not deny me when I came to him with plans to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and provide badly needed housing for the city. He did not turn his back on me and I will not turn my back on him," said the bishop, who embraced Barry as Harris sat nearby.
In 1978, McCollough endorsed then-incumbent Walter Washington and did not even mention Barry, who was then an at-large City Council member challenging Washington.
Harris yesterday issued a one-sentence response to the endorsement: "I will continue to deliver my message to the members of the House of Prayer, and as mayor I will work with and serve the members of the congregation."
According to a spokesman for the church, Barry gave the bishop -- at no cost to the House of Prayer -- a plot of city-owned land in September 1981 to build a $9.5 million, 158-unit apartment building next door to the church.
The development -- which is called Paradise Gardens, and which, according to the spokesman, was paid for in cash -- is scheduled to open in a few months.
Yesterday, Barry said the gift of land to McCollough's group was not an isolated case. He said the city during his term has sold or given other city lands to churches and civic groups.
"The present law allows the city to do it for nonprofits and other worthy ventures," Barry said, adding that the projects help create housing and jobs in construction.
Barry said he was uncertain about the impact the endorsement would have on the race and quipped, "I'll get at least the bishop's vote and I assume his wife's vote."
He later said, "I assume I may get a significant amount of the church membership. They are very loyal and they see what I've done. I don't think the bishop will have much trouble convincing them to vote for me. Whetever happens, every vote counts."
Charlene Drew Jarvis, the Ward 4 council member who also is running for mayor, said Barry may be relying too heavily on the church's past, when congregants closely followed the lead of the former bishop, the renowned "Sweet Daddy" Grace. And she linked McCollough's endorsement to "economic concessions" that Barry has made.
At-large council member John Ray, who also is challenging Barry in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, could not be reached for comment.
The endorsements came during the church's 56th annual Holy Convocation, a seven-day festival. The church is also celebrating an addition to its headquarters building.
The new addition, called "Saint's Paradise," includes a baptismal pool that was used for the first time yesterday as the bishop personally baptized 1,200 people.
The church celebration, which began in July in Buffalo, N.Y., will end in Los Angeles in January.
McCollough is scheduled to celebrate the church's existence in Newport News after the Washington ceremonies are over.
Although the bishop travels frequently around the nation, he has made his home in Washington for 42 years.