By Hal Hiemstra
It’s been six months since our congregation began social distancing and worshiping online. During that same time period, The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church’s many tenants have also had to drastically alter their own programs and revise their ways of operating.
One of our largest tenants – the Downtown Day Services Center had been serving 150 or more clients per day prior to mid-March. With the closure of our building those services were abruptly halted – but the needs continued. To meet some of those needs, a new partnership developed between our church and World Central Kitchen resulting in a new lunch program that was launched in Triangle Park next to the church. Piggybacking off of the new lunch program, the Day Services Center began offering limited services by appointment only during the hours that meals were being served. When the District of Columbia moved into Phase II reopening in late June, the Day Services program expanded its own program. Restrooms, showers, laundry, phone charging and emergency clothing are now being offered between the hours of 9:00 am and 5:00 pm, along with lunchtime meal services seven days a week in Triangle Park. The Day Services Center is operating at about 30% capacity and hopes to begin operating at 60% capacity by the end of this year.
The group counseling focus of the McClendon Center has meant that it has been unable to restart its own Day Services program at the church at this time. The McClendon Center’s Day Program identifies different learning levels for clients, who are grouped according to their cognitive ability and degree of motivation. These learning levels, or tracks, include substance abuse recovery groups as well as early recovery groups for those individuals who are beginning to consider the process of recovery. Because most McClendon clients travel by public transit, and because most McClendon sessions are group sessions, current social distancing requirements make it particularly difficult at this time for the McClendon Center to restart its program at NYAPC. McClendon Center staff are occasionally using their offices, but the counseling programs that are offered in morning and afternoon sessions at the church remain on hold.
Similarly, Capitol Clubhouse – another group counseling program operated out of NYAPC – primarily utilizing the Radcliffe Room – is also currently on hold. The Clubhouse model provides mental health services in a clubhouse setting that offers members a path to recovery from mental illness through friendship, meaningful work, and access to education and housing. Because their client base also primarily travels by bus, and because they work with clients in a group setting, Capitol Clubhouse leaders have not yet felt that they can safely restart in-person meetings. Some Clubhouse staff have occasionally been using their offices off the Radcliffe Room, but are not yet back in the building on a regular basis.
Fabrangen, a Jewish fellowship founded in 1971, has been renting our sanctuary and holding its High Holiday Services at NYAPC for the last 34 years. This year it is unable to do so. Fabrangen is a havurah, a fellowship that is led by its members, not by one rabbi, with services that are known for their vitality and depth. The High Holidays provide an essential spiritual practice of critical introspection and self-awareness, delineating a holy time for thoughtful re-examination of actions and inactions – and times when we have failed to follow our values. This year, Fabrangen writes that current events have focused their fellowship on systemic racism and have highlighted societal norms that have discriminatory impacts. The Fabrangen fellowship recognizes that “we must engage in the work of confronting racism to create a reality that honors the fact that Black Lives Matter.” In support of NYAPC’s own ministry around social justice issues, even though Fabrangen is not able to worship in our sanctuary this year, they have pledged to make a significant donation to our church in support of our social justice efforts.
The Downtown Cluster of Congregations, directed by Terry Lynch, has more frequently used their office space, the Thelma Odem room located just off the main lobby, but is not back in our building on a regular basis.
Other tenants, including the DC Concert Orchestra, which typically practices on Sunday afternoons in Peter Marshall Hall, has been unable to restart its program at this time and is struggling for funding but is hopeful that its program can restart by January 2021.
Two smaller congregations – Kingdom Life Ministries, and Faith Temple also typically hold Sunday afternoon services at our church. Kingdom Life Ministries is well-known for its enthusiastic musical performers and singing. Neither congregation has been able to worship at NYAPC since mid-March and will not be able to do so until our own congregation is once again back in our sanctuary.
All of these tenants are part of the New York Avenue family and mission, and they need our prayers and support as they, like us, work to stay together and come out on the other side of this pandemic.