CHPC member and Ruling Elder Barbara Beach
My family, consisting of my mother, father, and younger brother Milton, moved from Philadelphia to the DC area in 1948 when I was 15 years old. Talk about culture shock! Picture if you will, a teen-age girl transplanted from a large city high school in Philadelphia to segregated Prince George’s County. In Philadelphia I took the subway to school every day; in Prince George’s County in those days, if you didn’t have a car you could only get to Washington on a Greyhound bus..At any rate, I became friendly with a girl in my music class and she invited me to go to her church. At that time, my family was not a church going family, but my father agreed to take me. The church was Eastern Presbyterian Church at 6th and Maryland Ave. NE.
The people of the congregation at that time were of modest means. Members included government workers, teachers, and shopkeepers. They were quiet people, but friendly and open to newcomers. I felt at home there and ultimately, my whole family joined Eastern Church. I became a member in May, 1949. Sometime after that, the choir director, Emily Lowe, recruited me for the choir and I have been singing in it ever since.
Eastern was – and still is – a beautiful church, both inside and out. The building is gothic in style, of gray stone with a very tall tower. It was often known as the “lighthouse on Capitol Hill”. It now houses the Imani Temple.
Around that time, the neighborhoods surrounding both Metropolitan and Eastern churches were undergoing changes. Young families, especially, were moving to the suburbs and it was becoming obvious that two Presbyterian churches could not survive in such close proximity and that they would have to either move or merge. In 1952 a joint committee was appointed to address these problems. The idea of moving to a new location was rejected and a merger presented a dilemma – which church building would they retain and which would be sold? Naturally, each congregation wanted to keep their own building and dispose of the other.
The Joint Committee could not resolve this issue and sought help from Presbytery which made the following recommendations: the two churches merge to form one congregation and name a neutral tribunal to arbitrate the question of which building would be retained and which to sell. The proceeds of the sale would be used for improvements to the retained facility and to retire any debts of the two congregations. After much discussion, the motion was finally passed by both congregations on June 20, 1954.
Now the question remained: which of the two buildings would become the home of the newly named “Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church”? No matter which was chosen, there would be many disappointed individuals and much heartache. After a thorough study of both facilities, the Presbytery Tribunal recommended that this building – the Metropolitan Church building – be retained because it had substantially more floor space. Consequently, the Eastern Church building was sold.
To their credit, the Eastern members took the decision in stride and gave up their lovely building. The transition of the new congregation was made more welcoming to the Eastern members by including in the remodeled Sanctuary some of the chancel furniture from the Eastern Church building, This included the wooden baptismal font, the hanging lights, and the communion table, which is now used as the welcome table in the fellowship hall.
In 1957, the first women Elders were ordained . These were Etta Rowell, who had been very active in the Sunday School department of Eastern Church and Beverly Riston, a lifelong member of Metropolitan.
These two churches had rejected the easy solution of deserting the city and instead chose the challenge of the more difficult field of endeavor and an uncertain future.