A 35-Year Ecumenical Journey
The United Church is both a very young and very old church. We like to say "Our faith is 2000 years old. Our thinking is not." Our faith traces is the same faith of the early church 2000 years ago, and is rooted in the Jewish faith from which Christianity grew. But, we are open to new ways of thinking about our faith and new ways of being the church. As a local community, our congregation came into being in 1975, and as such is still young at 35 years old and still figuring out how we can best love and serve God on the corner of 20th and G Streets. But we trace our roots to two much older congregations, founded in the 1800's, which merged to form this faith community.
Concordia United Church of Christ was founded in 1833 as the German United Evangelical Concordia Congregation. It was founded by German immigrants who claimed a plot originally designated for a Lutheran church by developer Jacob Funck in 1768. Coming from Prussia where the Lutheran and Reformed churches had been united as one "Evangelical" church, these immigrants sought to remain united above doctrinal differences. Evangelical for Germans held different meaning than for the typical usage today, in German "Evangelisch" has simply meant Protestant. This congregation ministered faithfully to the German-American community in Washington. John Philip Sousa, the famous composer and bandleader, was the son of a Bavarian mother and was baptized at Concordia. The first building was dedicated in 1834. A second building was built on the same site in 1891, which has been extensively renovated and remains in use. All services were held in German until 1898, when English services began. German services were forced to be discontinued due to anti-German sentiment in World War I, but were resumed once the war ended. By 1930, English services became predominant. Following World War II, with the influx of postwar German immigrants and refugees, there was a resurgence of interest in the German ministry. Despite many people moving to the suburbs in the 50's and 60's, the congregation remained committed to staying in the city.
Union United Methodist Church was founded as Union Methodist Episcopal Chapel in 1846 and during the second meeting the lots of 812 and 814 20th Street were purchased. In 1847 the church building was completed and regular services were being held. By 1849, a local school was started in the basement of the church. The church was remodeled several times, and the entire front of the church was moved forward twice. During the Civil War, the church members opened its doors and allowed for the space to be used as a hospital for the many wounded soldiers. During this time, church services were held at the Friends Meeting House. In the first half of the twentieth century the congregation grew rapidly, and even included a senator in its membership. In the 60's it adjusted to the times well, providing outreach to homeless and drug addicts.
Beginning in 1967, Concordia UCC and Union UMC, along with Western Presbyterian Church, began discussing the possibility of uniting as one ecumenical congregation. The Foggy Bottom community was rapidly changing, with large businesses, federal agencies, NGO's, and university facilities replacing homes and small businesses. It was becoming difficult maintaining a sense of community in a neighborhood that seemed to be disappearing. Conversations on merger started and stopped several times, and re-began in earnest in 1973. After months of intense negotiation, Concordia and Union joined together on an ecumenical journey on January 1, 1975.
The first years after the merger were fraught with difficulty in living into being a unified congregation. Finally growing into its own identity, the congregation began to stabilize in the 1980s. It was then that the former Methodist building was leased to George Washington University (now known as Building XX) and members of the congregation were instrumental in the founding of Miriam's Kitchen. The 1990's brought pastorates of the Revs. Diana Ley and H. Don Smith, who strove to grow the church and focused on learning opportunities. German pastors began to be called from Germany for 3-year terms. Now, 10 years into the new century, the congregation is seeking how it can be a vital, transforming presence for Foggy Bottom and the Washington, DC metro.