Black Washington D.C. Church Congregation, 150 Years Old, to Dissolve as Neighborhood Gentrifies

Lincoln Congregational Temple was slated to celebrate its 150th anniversary in January 2019.
Lincoln Congregational Temple was slated to celebrate its 150th anniversary in January 2019.

After 150 years, a black DC congregation will meet for one last church service in late September.

Lincoln Congregational Temple United Church of Christ sits along 11th Street NW in DC’s Shaw neighborhood.

Members of the church recently voted to dissolve the congregation after struggling with dwindling membership numbers and a challenging financial outlook.

Barbara Breland, the designated pastor at Lincoln Congregational Temple, said church services could attract close to 1,000 people in the early twentieth century.

Now, most Sundays, the church is lucky to have a few dozen worshipers at its services.

“The members have changed over the years,” she said. “Mainly due to the changing demographics in the city.”


Gentrification has had a major impact on Lincoln Congregational Temple over the last decade, according to church moderator Jeanne Cooper.

“New buildings have gone up, old buildings have been renovated and modified,” she said.

Cooper has belonged to Lincoln Congregational Temple for five decades. She said the low-income housing that used to stand across the street is long gone.

Many church members have since decided to leave the city, and its rising costs, for Maryland and Virginia.

The church has worked to bring in new members from the surrounding neighborhood. But, the congregation says that effort has been challenging.

“It has been harder to attract them,” Breland said.

Gentrification has posed another obstacle for Lincoln Congregational Temple too.

Parking near the church has become scarce.

“I know some of our elderly members who would walk to church would have to walk a distance to get to the church because the parking spaces that previously had been across the street had been taken up by bicycle racks,” Cooper said.

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SOURCE: John Henry