Historic Black DC Church, Nineteenth Street Baptist, Observes Lent as a Way to Promote Interdenominational Unity

(The Washington Post)
(The Washington Post)

During Lenten season, 85-year-old Thurmon Stovall and his wife, Irish, 81, carry out what has become an annual family tradition: They volunteer at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Northwest Washington to serve lunch to mostly senior citizens who come from community centers and churches citywide each Wednesday. For the couple, it’s a labor of love.

“I always think about Christ and how he went to the cross for us, and it gives me pleasure and joy to think that I am doing something to help someone else,” said Irish Stovall, who with her husband has been serving meals each week during Lent at the church for 20 years. “It is about giving and service.”

It’s all part of a highly orchestrated production organized by a small group of elderly women who plan the luncheons for hundreds each week. A staple of the church’s broader decades-old program celebrating Lent, the meals follow a special service led by guest pastors who offer sermons to the assembled congregants.

The lunches are staffed by a range of church members, community volunteers and residents of senior citizens homes who are asked to participate.

“This is just a time of service for the elderly people who come out,” Thurmon Stovall said of the luncheons, which are free to the public. “It is a lot of work, but I like to do it.”

On a recent Wednesday in late March, volunteers served broiled chicken, baked potatoes, green beans and hot rolls to more than 200 people who had come from churches across the city. The tables in the fellowship room were draped with linen tablecloths, and set with fine china and sterling silverware. Most of the guests that day were senior citizens who came from area churches that included Nativity Catholic Church, Canaan Baptist Church, Jerusalem Baptist Church, Alexander Memorial Baptist Church and Mount Zion United Methodist Church.

And keeping a watchful, no-nonsense eye on the entire production was 94-year-old Eleanora Winston, the coordinator of the lunches.

“I don’t do much talking, but I will work and I will sing,” said Winston, who has been working and serving at the church for more than 50 years. “I have been a Christian since I was 12 years old, and I have always worked in the church.”

Winston calls on volunteers of all ages who cook, serve and clean up each week.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post
Hamil R. Harris

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