Connecting Columbia Union Seventh-day Adventists

First Adventist Church in Nation’s Capital Celebrates 125 Years in Ministry

The church choir sings wholeheartedly during Sabbath worship. The church choir sings wholeheartedly during Sabbath worship.

Members of Allegheny East Conference’s First church celebrate a trailblazing past, renovated sanctuary, a new book and anticipate a bright future as a prophetic voice in the nation’s capital.

Story by Rhonda M. Covington

Approximately 125 years after it was first founded, members of the oldest Seventh-day Adventist congregation in metropolitan Washington, D.C.,  celebrated a milestone anniversary last weekend, May 16-17. Often referred to as the mother church of the Washington metropolitan area, the church was organized with 26 charter members and resisted the tide of segregation in the nation and denomination through the transforming power of the gospel. Last Sabbath, members celebrated not only their staying power and trailblazing history, but also a renovated sanctuary made possible by months of faith, financial commitments and prayers.

Spurred on by Roland J. Hill, their new senior pastor, members successfully spearheaded a 125-day initiative that saw them fundraise and renovate the sanctuary. The renovation include installing three-and-half bathrooms and new carpeting, redoing tile in the foyer on the main level and upstairs in the mezzanine level, putting in two new rooms in the balcony, redoing the steps coming into the church, and reupholstering and refinishing the pews. After worshiping in a nearby Baptist church during the renovations, last weekend was the first time in about two months that members were able to worship in their own facility at 810 Shepherd Street, northwest.

With hearts of gladness and thanksgiving, members kicked off the celebration with a spirited Friday evening service that included prayer; a welcome by Lisa Reid-Smith, associate pastor; special music; reflections and a sermon by Ivan Williams, Ministerial director for the North American Division.

The next morning featured an early service with prayer, music and a sermon from Pastor Hill. The second service featured music by an orchestra, a mass choir and a sermon from former senior pastor Mark A. McCleary, PhD. In his sermon he reminded attendees, “Don’t Worry Because God is for You.”

Pastor Roland J. Hill surprises Betty Gillis, who has been a member of the church for 77 years, with flowers and a plaque. Pastor Roland J. Hill surprises Betty Gillis, who has been a member of the church for 77 years, with flowers and a plaque.

During the divine worship service, Betty F. Gillis, who recently celebrated her 89th birthday and holds the longest membership of 77 years, was honored and presented with a plaque and flowers. Over the years, she served as the organist, assistant choir director, minister of music and assistant Sabbath School leader.

Henry J. Fordham, president of the Allegheny East Conference, spoke during the Sabbath evening rededication of the sanctuary and told the congregation, “You must be obedient in order to produce seed and we must protect the remnant of the church.”

After the mass choir sang, “We are gonna have a good time in the Lord,” Pastor Hill invited congregants to recite the church’s motto: “I’m on a mission for the master to produce seed for the kingdom. It’s bigger than me!”

Pastor Hill explains that the church’s “It’s Bigger Than Me” slogan derives from Elezer in Genesis 24, where he prayed, “Oh, Lord God of my master Abraham, please give me success today and show kindness to my master Abraham.” Hill says, “The slogan reminds the church of its past influence on the present generations, while challenging current members to view their lives and church work as bigger than themselves. Their lives will affect future generations.”

Former member, Elder Jessie White delivered the prayer for the Saturday evening service. She became a First Church member in 1964. Prior to moving to Georgia six years ago, she had served in many church ministries. She said of the weekend, “I felt overwhelmed at how God has led this church through 125 years of existence. Greater miracles are in the future if we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us.”

Mark McCleary, former pastor of the First church, returns to the pulpit for the church's 125th anniversary. Mark McCleary, former pastor of the First church, returns to the pulpit for the church's 125th anniversary.

Members ended the Sabbath by learning about and participating in a signing of the recently released book Miracle of Courage, Color and Christ—The History of the First Church of Seventh-day Adventists.The limited edition, coffee table book was written by Douglas Morgan, PhD, a history professor at Washington Adventist University in nearby Takoma Park, Md. Donations will be accepted for the book to fund planned renovations, which include installing an elevator and a fourth level and educational tower. For copies of the book, contact the church at Click here to read more about the book.

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