United Methodists Will Offer Inaugural Hospitality

January 14, 2009

A UMNS Report

By Linda Bloom*

Jan. 7, 2009


More than 40 United Methodist congregations in Washington will help fellow church members and other inaugural visitors pray and ponder over the nation's future and assist with creature comforts ranging from a cup of coffee to a place to sleep.

Called 'Be the Change You Want to See,' the plan of hospitality encompasses the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as well as the inauguration of the first African-American U.S. president. The denomination's Baltimore-Washington Conference says the Jan. 17-21 plan is not about politics but rather "an expression of our commitment to a loving and just world at a time when the eyes of the world will be on our city."

The idea developed after the conference hosted a meeting of community developers from around the country, according to Bishop John R. Schol, leader of the conference. One of the participants talked about the number of people projected to come for the inauguration, and conference officials started thinking about how the church could welcome those travelers.

The scope of activities reflects the commitment of the congregations to justice and mission, recognizing "where we are today as a nation and a world," Schol told United Methodist News Service. "We've also been impressed with President-elect Obama, who has put an emphasis on service."

Five United Methodist churches in Washington will be open to provide hospitality on Inauguration Day:

  • Asbury United Methodist Church, 926 11th St. NW, will open at 8:30 a.m. and include television viewing.
  • Foundry United Methodist Church, 1500 16th St. NW, which also will have television viewing, will open at 9 a.m.
  • Christ United Methodist Church, 900 4th St. SW, will begin offering hospitality at 10 a.m.
  • Capitol Hill United Methodist Church, 421 Seward Square SE, will be open all day.
  • Lincoln Park United Methodist Church, 1301 North Carolina Ave. NE, will be open all day.

At a number of churches, the floors of fellowship halls and Sunday school rooms are being used to accommodate overnight guests. "We have people coming from as far away as Hawaii," Schol said. He added that he particularly was excited about the number of youth and young adults involved.

The bishop is proud of the congregations and numerous individual volunteers participating in the inauguration-related programs. "This is a real opportunity for us to share radical hospitality and be the church," he said.

Theme of rebirth

On Sunday, Jan. 18, United Methodist worship services in the conference will focus on the theme, "A Rebirth: A New Spirit," based on Ezekiel 11: 19-20. That passage reads: "I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God."


Illinois Great Rivers Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, will preach at Foundry, and Western Pennsylvania Bishop Thomas Bickerton will preach at Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church.

Their sermons will be preserved by the Library of Congress. According to the Associated Press, the library's American Folklife Center has asked churches, synagogues, mosques and other groups for copies of sermons or passionate speeches that focus on the significance of Obama's inauguration. Both audio and video clips will be preserved as part of the "Inauguration 2009 Sermons and Orations Project."

Diverse events are scheduled Jan. 17-19 at local churches, including concerts, prayer and worship services and workshops. Featured speakers will include Mike McCurry, a United Methodist and former White House press secretary, who will discuss "Democrats, Faith and Politics: The Religious DNA of the New Administration," at Mount Vernon Place. A schedule can be found at www.bethechangeyouwanttosee.org.

The Baltimore-Washington Conference also is holding food drives to restock the area's food banks, as well as a mission drive to purchase 2,009 insecticide-treated bed nets to help fight malaria in Africa as part of the denomination's Nothing But Nets program.

At Foundry Church, which has a full slate of activities, approximately 80 to 110 young people are expected to sleep at the church. "Much of the other programming we're doing is part of our hospitality to the young people who will be staying in our church,' said the Rev. Dean Snyder, senior minister.

Focus on service

The young people will participate in seminars and service projects, with an emphasis on the country's economic situation. "We wanted to put a focus on service and learning as opposed to partying," he explained.

Attention will be paid to the fact that racism remains a serious problem in the United States. The selection of Palmer as guest preacher continues the tradition of having an "outstanding African-American leader" in Foundry's pulpit on MLK weekend. In that respect, "we also are aware that this is a historic inauguration ... it is a landmark for the nation," Snyder said.

Foundry is expected to pop up on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart on the Comedy Central television network. Snyder said correspondent Wyatt Cenac and a "Daily Show" crew spent four hours videotaping at the church before the show's holiday break.

He believes the focus of the piece, tentatively slated to air Jan. 15, will spoof media speculation about where the Obamas will worship. Foundry was the church home for Hillary and Bill Clinton during his presidency.

Snyder joked that he had no choice but to agree to a "Daily Show" interview. "'The Daily Show' is my kids' primary source of news," he said.