Nearly a week after the end of a bitter and divisive presidential campaign, leaders of many Washington-area churches used services Sunday for reflection, healing and to calm the fears of members concerned about what a Trump administration could mean for their futures.
“Today we stand in wonderment, bewilderment, amazement and ask: What happened?” said the Rev. Dr. Marie Phillips Braxton, who offered the guest sermon at the historic Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in the District.
The nearly 180-year-old church, just blocks from the White House, with roots in the anti-slavery movement, has hosted multiple sitting presidents, including President Obama and Bill Clinton. But many said they did not know how to come to terms with Donald Trump as president.
For millions of Americans, President-elect Trump’s campaign will be remembered for its racist overtones and threats to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, ban Muslims from the United States and to build a wall between the United States and Mexico. The days since the election have been marked by an uptick in racially tinged attacks and threats across the country, along with counter-protests.
In Silver Spring, the predominantly Latino congregants of the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour were greeted by hateful graffiti when they arrived for Sunday services. Outside the sanctuary, on the back of a church sign strung between a tree and a telephone pole, someone had printed “Trump Nation” and “Whites Only.” The same message was scrawled on a brick wall in an alcove outside the church.
“It touches my heart,” said Nilton Diaz, 55, who is from El Salvador and worships at the church. Standing outside near the graffiti and choking back tears, Diaz, who has been in the United States for 33 years, said: “I love whites. I love blacks. I love all kinds of people. This is a beautiful country for everybody, because God is for everybody.”
Mariann Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, who visited the church to celebrate an afternoon mass in Spanish, decried the vandalism during the service and again later, speaking to reporters.
“We have just concluded our worship services in a church that has been desecrated by violence,” she said. “Hate speech has covered the signs of this church, and we stand here to say that we are firm in our rejection of such violence.”
All around her, on the church’s driveway and sidewalks, congregants of all ages, from first-graders to grandparents, had written messages of peace in colored chalk: “We Love Jesus” and “God Is Love” and “Love God, Love All.”
Budde said: “I would call especially upon the president-elect and those who voted for him to separate themselves from acts of violence and hate that are being perpetrated in his name. We believe that the majority of Americans want a nation of peace and of unity across the spectrum of our glorious people.”
Nearby, at Grace Episcopal Church in Silver Spring, the Rev. Andrew Walter said he had spent the week fielding calls from congregants fearful and upset that Trump’s election would provoke more acts of violence. He cited the graffiti at the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, as well as the scrawling of a swastika in the boys’ bathroom at Westland Middle School in Bethesda on Friday, as among the events that had shaken people.
“A lot of people are angry, but they are also scared,” Walter said.
During service Sunday, Walter addressed the children of the diverse congregation with an affirming message: “No matter where you are or where you come from, no matter the color of your skin, no matter your religion, your faith, no matter your political affiliation, you are made in the image of God and God loves you, just the way you are.”
At many churches, the message was about empowerment and showing solidarity with vulnerable communities.
The Rev. Grainger Browning, pastor of the Ebenezer African Methodist Church in Fort Washington, preached a sermon entitled “Birth of a Nation,” inspired by the recently released Nat Turner biopic, about the slave who led a rebellion.
At All Souls Unitarian Church in Northwest Washington, people sat shoulder to shoulder in pews on two levels and rose to applaud as the Rev. Robert M. Hardies called for the church to be a “sanctuary” for people who are threatened or disempowered by the new administration.
Church of the Pilgrims, a Presbyterian Church on P Street, displayed a new Black Lives Matter banner.
And at Temple Micah, a Reform synagogue in the District, Rabbi Daniel G. Zemel told a crowded service Friday night that “we will return to life” after this time of mourning.
“To be a Jew is to have a long memory, he said. “We know history and we know the long term. What have we not endured?”
At Metropolitan AME, Braxton similarly drew upon African Americans’ long history of oppression.
She told worshipers that “God is a compassionate God” who had been there throughout slavery and segregation and the civil rights battles of the previous generation and this one.
Braxton brought people to their feet as she told them to move from singing the blues to finding hope and looking to ancestors for a spirit of resistance.
“Stuff doesn’t happen to us; we make stuff happen,” she said.
Among the visitors at the historic Metropolitan AME were a dozen members of the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue.
Rabbi Shira Stutman sat at the pulpit with the clergy of the church. She said the first person she texted Wednesday morning after the election was the Rev. William H. Lamar IV, the pastor of Metropolitan AME, with whom she works often on social justice issues. “Our words, basically, were, ‘My God. My God,’ ” she said.
Lamar said that religious leaders of many faiths are organizing now to figure out how to move from prayer and reflection to action in their work.
“I am not going to dress it up in religious language: This is battle,” he said.
After the service, Robie Beatty, a lawyer, said that after the political deadlock and disrespect shown to Obama during his presidency and the long and hateful campaign, she was only “kind of sorta” surprised that Trump won.
Black people have endured a lot of struggle; this is just the latest example, she said. Just as she prayed before, she would continue to pray, she said.
“If we believe in the Lord, we have a way to get through it,” she said.
Hamil Harris, Valerie Strauss, Sydney Trent and Julie Zauzmer contributed to this report.