By Co-Pastors Brian and Ruth Hamilton
Westminster will soon undergo a transformation – a physical metamorphosis that will change more than its facade, but its role in the community. Some may know Westminster as the mid-century modern building at 4th and I Sts., but our history goes all the way back to the mid nineteenth century.
We were founded in 1853, and our proposed new building will be our third transformation. A congregation must be stewards of all its resources, and it is our church’s mission and ministry to serve one of this community’s largest needs: affordable housing. Our church’s old and physically challenged building necessitated us to seek a new facility, and an opportunity to provide affordable housing to those most forgotten – seniors.
It has been a long process getting Westminster to take the first steps of this new journey. Our building mission began in April 2015, when we selected a development team that brought a unified plan to develop our property. We envisioned a new church and 123 affordable senior housing units below 60% of AMI.
We realize providing housing for those below 60% AMI is a challenge, but Westminster is committed to this goal. Our plan provides more affordable housing than that which would be required under DC’s Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) Requirements. Councilmember Charles Allen stated: “The dedicated affordable housing – for seniors on a fixed income – stands out in this project. More than half of the new homes created will meet this deep need. We don’t see that level of affordable housing very often, even on government-owned properties. It’s a purpose and priority I strongly support.”
However, the only way Westminster could afford the new church building and the affordable housing was to sell its current parking lot.
An integrated 99 unit market building will be constructed on the parking lot. Understanding SW’s need for parking, the newly developed Westminster property will contain ample underground parking that exceeds the D.C. parking requirements. This total project will bring a new, up to date community serving church building, a huge amount of affordable housing for the many seniors in SW, and replace an unsightly parking lot with a stunning residential building. Westminster’s proposed development is provided for in the SW Small Area Plan and is consistent with the proposed Comprehensive Plan, pending review before the D.C. Council.
The design of the new church has been questioned – that it doesn’t look like a “typical church,” but we are glad it doesn’t. In America, 1000s of churches close every year, many with beautiful “looks like a church” architecture. These days, traditional church structures may actually keep people away. The adage “just build a church, and they will come” is no longer true. Being a forward-looking, all-are-welcome, multiple use church, Westminster wanted a church building that would be inviting to all. We know that to be a church, you don’t have to look like a church.
The Presbyterian phrase “reformed and always reforming” is in our DNA. Westminster is one of the first 13 PCUSA congregations nationwide to welcome and ordain openly LGBTQ people; the first in the DMV to have a woman solo pastor; the founder of Food & Friends AIDS ministry; the first TransPride Festival in DC; and, of course, where Jazz and Blues are the sacred sound. We are glad to add “affordable housing” to this list of ways God has been reforming us and our ministry through the years. And, now we will be able to more effectively engage with neighbors and their real human needs.
The church building will also include artist studio space oriented toward community participation, a recording studio, meeting places for community groups and events, yoga, gallery space for art events and displays, a commercial kitchen, and a dining area.
We look forward to letting our building be a supportive and innovative partner for all-inclusive community events that will happen at the new Duck Pond, along the Arts Walk, the city green space in front of the church, Library/Playground, and beyond. Our church facility will be an asset to the great public space around us.
With your support, the Westminster congregation and its broad extended network will do everything possible to continue being leaven in the beautiful loaf of SW. To discover how you can help, please contact us at www.westminsterdc.org.