By Georgine Wallace
At night, the illuminated stained-glass windows of the new Riverside Baptist Church cast a soothing glow on the corner of 7th Street and Maine Avenue SW, providing a morsel of serenity to the busy intersection. The stained-glass windows may look familiar as they were transferred from the preceding structure. In fact, the entire building contains small tributes to special points in their history. The present structure opened in 2018.
According to Church Administrator Sarah Fairbrother, Riverside started its presence in Southwest in 1857 under the name of the Fifth Baptist Church. The church moved several times in its first century, in part to accommodate the size of its growing congregation. In 1957, as the church was celebrating its 100th anniversary, the property was purchased by the Redevelopment Land Agency via eminent domain. This was as shock as they and two other churches had been promised that their property would not be part of the project. Using the funds from the sale of the property, they purchased the current lot at 699 Maine Avenue SW. During the construction of the building, they worshipped at a restaurant by the name of Hogates, an establishment known to long-time Southwesters. The congregation changed its name to Riverside in 1969 to reflect their location.
As the years progressed, Riverside’s congregation and values reflected the times. In the 1960’s, Riverside integrated its congregation. In 1992, Riverside opened its doors to members of the LGBTQ + community. They left the conservative Southern Baptist Convention and “reaffirmed its relationship” to the DC Baptist Convention the same year.
Today, the church is without a pastor following the retirement of Reverend Dr. Michael Bledsoe and the reassignment of an interim pastor. They hope to call a new pastor this fall. In the interim, the deacons see to the care and spiritual feeding of the congregation by performing visitations and welcoming new members. The church trustees ensure the financial viability of the congregation.
Cheryl Parham, the Chair of Deacons and Outreach and Missions Coordinator Jonathan J. Holley noted that they remain active in the community. For example, they helped Westminster Presbyterian Church on their Toys for Tots campaign last December. The congregation is working together to plan a 165th anniversary celebration of Riverside and its place in Southwest’s history.
The church sold part of its land during the last rebuild and created an endowment for the future care of the structure and the congregation. Part of this fund was used recently to award $30,000 in grants, divided among the following local and international organizations: SWNA Scholarship fund, Friends of SW, Open City Advocates, SOME, The Wanda Alston Foundation, the Poor People’s Campaign and Jitokeze Wamama Wafrika. Riverside also created a scholarship program and plans to announce their first winner later this summer. If you would like to join this dynamic group for Sunday services, they commence at 10:00 a.m. They also live-stream the proceedings. Communion is held on the first and second Sunday of the month. The church is open to community members who would like to hold a meeting or function in one of the church’s rooms. Email Sarah Fairbrother at firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information.