As he stood outside a white revival tent that was pitched on his 20 acres in Capitol Heights, Bishop Alphonzo D. Brooks ignored the flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder that were moving into the area. He was focused on a new $16 million sanctuary across a large lot.
For more than 50 years, “The Mother Church,” the Way of the Cross Church of Christ, was in Northeast Washington. But last year, the church sold that sanctuary and started to hold services in the tent in Capitol Heights. A large recreational vehicle has served as the church’s office during that time.
But in coming weeks, the doors of the new Way of the Cross Church of Christ will open. In many ways, the storm clouds that were moving in reminded Brooks of the many battles he has waged in the church founded by his father, Bishop Henry C. Brooks, in 1927. He said that at the time, it was one of only two Pentecostal congregations in the District.
In the 1930s, the church was forced to move from Fourth Street and Virginia Avenue to a building on the Southeast Freeway. Although the church found a home at Ninth and D streets NE, the members struggled to find parking. Last year, the church identified the land in Capitol Heights.
“The devil did everything to discourage me, but thank God for faithful members,” said Brooks, 74, who, prior to preaching, enlisted in the Army and jumped out of C-130’s with the 82nd Airborne, ran a limousine service and managed rental properties.
“I didn’t want to be a preacher. I wanted to be a businessman,” said Brooks, who was persuaded to follow in his father’s footsteps by the late Bishop Smallwood E. Williams.
“We have had some ups and downs, but God has been good,” said Brooks, whose biggest challenge came in 1999, after a deal to purchase the 2,300-seat Riverdale Baptist Church sanctuary, school and cemetery fell through.
In 1994, Riverdale Baptist put its building and land on the market. The Upper Marlboro, church had purchased a tract in Davidsonville, and was planning to build a large sanctuary and school there, where most of its members had moved.
Riverdale agreed to sell its property to Way of the Cross for $13.9 million. The church was able to get a $10 million “Community Reinvestment” loan from Riggs National Bank, and Riverdale agreed to hold a second note for $3.9 million until the D.C. church could finance the balance of the sale price.
But the deal ran into trouble after Anne Arundel County officials voted to prohibit Riverdale Baptist from building a church in Davidsonville.
Fifteen years later, Brooks and his congregation appear to be poised to move into a sanctuary that they hoped would be ready for the church’s international convocation, which begins this weekend. Even though the church opening date has been pushed back, Brooks is optimistic about the future.
“This is totally a different day,” Brooks said.