Maybe you have a religiously blended family or you’re just looking for something different to do with your visitors. If you have music lovers and fans of good and affordable food in your life, you might want to add Westminster Presbyterian Church to your holiday plans.
Located at Fourth and I streets in Southwest Washington, the church offers weekly jazz and blues performances: blues on Mondays, jazz on Fridays. Admission is $5, and meals start at $7.50. This isn’t your usual venue for jazz and blues. It’s a church. But “not just a church,” as its slogan reads.
The weekly performances have gone on for years. The Reggie Wayne Morris Band is set for Nov. 23. Jazz artists Bonnie Harris, Bruce Swaim, Julian Hipkins, Wes Biles and Vince Smith will perform Dec. 26, and on Jan. 15, there’s an annual anniversary celebration in honor of jazz night.
The church is near Arena Stage, and the Wharf is nearby. The Waterfront Metro station is about a five-minute walk away.
On a recent Friday, casually dressed men and women — mostly baby boomers and older — filed in for the evening’s show. Some folks have made the performances part of their weekly routines.
Johniece Brooks, 64, a former Southwest resident, enjoys jazz and blues nights.
“You get here and you find out the people on the stand are well-known, world-renowned artists, and you’re like, ‘Oh wow,’ ” she says.
Brooks comes for the music, a chance to mingle and for the mango-ginger sweet tea made from scratch by chef Michael DuBose.
Westminster was chartered in 1853. Its original location on Seventh Street was demolished as Southwest became one of the first sites of urban renewal in the country. Thousands of the area’s mostly African American residents were displaced. The church nearly closed. In the 1970s, at a new address, the church began to make a resurgence, reaching out to the LGBT community, says co-pastor Brian Hamilton, 58. He and his wife and co-pastor, Ruth Hamilton, moved to the District in 1996.
“When we came to Westminster, about 75 percent of the membership were LGBT folks and all of our governing board,” says Brian Hamilton. The congregation became concerned that Westminster was becoming “sorta a ‘one-issue’ church.”
Music became the answer. Partnering with jazz vocalist and former Washington Redskins player Dick Smith, Hamilton decided to bring a jazz night to the church.
“I found this to be a really wonderful way just to get people together and to celebrate jazz and to kind of explore the story of jazz in the United States,” he says.
The first Friday jazz night was held on Jan. 22, 1999. “Blue Monday Blues” came seven years later. Dick Smith is still the Friday night emcee.
Dinner is served downstairs from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Items on the menu include fried whiting, jerk chicken and catfish. There are a variety of sides, too: beans and rice, macaroni and cheese, potato salad and coleslaw.
The music, the food, the fellowship make for a festive evening, and one certainly fit for the season.
Says Hamilton, “Some of the older musicians used to tell me this is just like coming home.”