Ethel Strube is 91 and lives in Arlington County. But nearly every Sunday, she drives her gold minivan into Northwest Washington to attend religious services at 16th and Decatur Church of Christ. It’s a journey she’s made for more than 50 years, ever since she left the District to live in the suburbs.
There are many places of worship closer to home, but Strube says her church, which she has attended for more than 70 years, has a community of people who share her strict devotional faith. As a member of the Restoration Movement, a religious group with nearly 3 million members worldwide, she believes in immersion baptism, singing without instrumental accompaniment and taking communion every Sunday. She said she wants to be in a church where people adhere strictly to the tenets of the New Testament, where they “speak where the Bible speaks.”
“This church is my home,” Strube, the congregation’s oldest member, said about the sanctuary just east of Rock Creek Park. She said she would keep attending “as long as I can see and drive over here.”
On Sunday, 16th and Decatur Church of Christ, the first congregation of its type in the Washington area, will celebrate 100 years of delivering its message to its local flock. Strube plans to be there.
The church is a pillar of the most conservative wing of the Restoration Movement in the region. Founded in the 19th century, the movement stresses unification of all Christians under a single church — not to be divided among Catholics, Protestants and other branches — and devotion to New Testament teachings. The movement also embraces old-fashion door-to-door evangelism, just as it did when it was formed.
Ed Wilson, minister of the congregation, said hundreds of believers from across the region and elsewhere will take part in a joint service and fellowship meal Sunday to celebrate the church’s centennial.
“I keep preaching and teaching the word because I still believe that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. We take the scriptures seriously,” Wilson said. “I would like to see the numbers increase, but we have to do it the old-fashioned way. We have to go out and preach and teach and bring people to Christ.”
Wilson’s dedication persists in the face of a decline in church membership from more than 500 in the 1950s to about 100 today.
What became 16th and Decatur Church of Christ began as a group of Washingtonians who gathered in a home at 14th and Clifton streets NW. The congregation grew quickly, and by 1951, the church’s stately home on 16th Street NW was built and ready to occupy.
It’s this history that congregants will celebrate Sunday. “This church was seminal to the development of the church in the whole region,” said Donnis Crump, widow of Wayne Crump, the congregation’s minister from 1987 to 2007. She went on to list “the Fairfax church, the Silver Spring church, the Rockville church and many others.”
Members are also taking note of the church’s progress in becoming a diverse community. As Church of Christ congregations began to form in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, the 16th and Decatur church began to welcome African Americans in increasing numbers.
Strube exemplifies the church’s embrace of diversity each time she drives into the city to attend church. On the way, she picks up a fellow churchgoer, Delores Perry, so that they can attend services together.
Both Strube, who is white, and Perry, who is black, remarked on how important the increase in diversity is to their church experience.Perry, who has been a member of congregation for three years, said she enjoys going to church with Strube. “She is a good friend,” Perry said. “She makes me smile. She comes to my house and picks me up at 91.”
The church has fostered a welcoming environment. At a recent service, Rodney Philyaw said he and his wife, who are African American, joined the church three years ago because they didn’t want to continue attending all-black churches.
“I wanted a more rounded experience for my daughter and saw a lot of need here,” he said, “but I also saw what God can do.”