By Georgine Wallace
To many of us, they are treasured friends and partners in neighborhood projects, and to the parishioners of Westminster Presbyterian, Co-Pastors Ruth and Brian Hamilton are the heart of their church. Long-time member Vyllorya Evans describes Ruth Hamilton as their “spiritual leader” and “connection to the community” while Brian Hamilton “challenges our intellect” and teaches about broader social issues. The Hamiltons have served Westminster and Southwest DC since February, 1996.
Ruth Hamilton recently announced that she will retire this April after 26 years at Westminster and 29 years as a minister. When asked why she decided to step down now, she said, “it was time.” Ruth will still be active in some neighborhood activities while Brian will take over as full-time pastor and monitor the construction of a new Westminster Church.
The Hamiltons met while serving as Associate Pastors at different churches in Detroit. Shortly after getting married, they began to look for a location where they could serve as co-pastors, and a friend advised them about Westminster. The history of the church and its commitment to social issues won them over. They purchased a home in Southwest DC and moved in during the blizzard of 1996, when nearly two feet of snow blanketed the area.
From the start, the duo displayed a deep commitment to equal rights and social justice. Ruth and Brian officiated gay and lesbian unions before many pastors considered the addition of members of the LGBTQIA+ community into their congregation. The trailblazing food service organization Food and Friends was created at Westminster before moving out on its own.
Ruth soon developed deep and trusted friendships across the community. She served on multiple boards, including the former Southwest Family Strengthening Collaborative, which sought to provide counseling, parenting and financial services to families, and the United Planning Organization, which links individuals to job and other opportunities. In 2004, Ruth was part of a group of residents who recognized the development coming to Southwest and sought to ensure residents received valuable services and opportunities. The Near Southeast/Southwest Community Benefits Coordinating Council was created to strengthen schools, develop workforce opportunities and maximize affordable housing. Ruth served as its chair from 2005 to 2015.
Brian’s impact is equally impressive but felt in the performing arts, social justice, AIDS education and harm reduction. The iconic Westminster Friday night jazz sessions began as a 1999 conversation on racial and ethnic reality by African American church members. Since that time, the best local artists in DC have graced the Westminster stage. A Monday blues session was added in 2006. Working with church member George Kerr III, Brian created the Building Rhythm Through Recovery program, which is now known as harm reduction. If you would like to extend your best wishes to Ruth, Westminster is holding a Zoom retirement party on Thursday, March 31 at 7:00 p.m. A Palm Sunday Lawn Party will then be held at Westminster (400 I Street SW) on Sunday, April 10 at 12:00 p.m. Additional details, including the Zoom link for the March 31 event, can be acquired by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.