How a local congregation wants to not only purchase and rehab the church six blocks from the White House but also open its doors to conservation groups and advocates
With Washington, D.C., being the temporary, yet multi-year home for sitting presidents, it is no wonder that the city would be host to a number of “presidential churches.” During his time serving as vice president and president, Theodore Roosevelt was a regular visitor to one such institution, Grace Reformed Church, and walked the six blocks from the White House to worship there every Sunday he was in town. He sat in the same pew, now commemorated in his name, and was an active participant in the growth and fellowship of the church.
Today, the 119-year-old building is showing its age and needs considerable renovations. It’s also up for sale. And despite having earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, a private owner would have leverage on what they can do with the corner-lot property, including gutting the church to build condos or apartments.
A local congregation, Grace Capital City, is hoping to not only purchase the church and rehab the building, making it their permanent home, but also use it as a gathering place for the conservation community at large. I sat down with Jessica Moerman, vice president of science and policy for the Evangelical Environmental Network, Co-Founding Pastor of Grace Capital City, and wife to the church’s lead pastor, about why this church is of particular importance to this congregation and how they intend to keep the former president’s legacy of conservation alive and thriving within its walls.
How did you decide that the Grace Reformed Church building should be the permanent home for your congregation?
I am an earth and environmental scientist. My husband, Chris, is the lead pastor of our congregation. So, it was the coming together of both of our vocations, plus the integration of faith and conservation, and realizing that Theodore Roosevelt did the same thing. He called conservation the great moral issue. The Grace Reformed Church is a building he helped construct—he laid the cornerstone in 1902—and it was his spiritual home while living in Washington, D.C.
Why does Grace Capital City include the environment and conservation as part of its mission?
We practice a stewardship doctrine, which is found throughout scripture, where we’re called to be good stewards of everything that God has made. To us, that includes conservation, acting on climate, and protecting habitat and wildlife. When we make the connection between our ministry and our Christian mission, and if we’re taking the Bible seriously, that means we need to take good care of the great outdoors.
For me personally, I grew up in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. My dad is a hunter. He would take my sisters and me out hunting with him. He always said that hunters and anglers are the greatest conservationists and have a deep connection and respect for the land and wildlife.
In our modern-day world, and especially in an urban environment, it’s easy to be divorced from the land, which makes it so important to ensure there is access for people to get out into nature and experience creation.
What types of conservation activities does your church take on?
Just recently, we did a trash cleanup along the Potomac River. We are launching a tree planting campaign next year. And we also simply make time to gather outdoors as a group to go on hikes in our local parks and connect with God in his creation.
Why do you think your congregation is so engaged in conservation and the outdoors?
Our current congregation is full of young professionals and college students who want to change the world and are motivated by their faith to take action. They see the former president as a crusader for righteousness, which simply means that when you see things are wrong you act boldly to fix them. That’s what this generation wants to do. They want to engage in addressing the big problems of the world, such as biodiversity loss, climate change, and our natural places being degraded.
Young people of faith want to see their church engage in this, too. They look to the scriptures and see the call to be good stewards, but they don’t see it being acted out in the church. That’s something our congregation wants to normalize. And doing it in Theodore Roosevelt’s spiritual home as president is the true embodiment of living history.
If you succeed in purchasing the building, how will you honor Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy within the church?
We envision the church as being a convening space, not just for our congregation to worship, but also for conservation organizations to meet in and utilize. There is the Roosevelt Memorial Room, which is essentially a function hall, that we would love to make available to the community.
Roosevelt had a long-term vision for everything he did. He wasn’t questioning if things would have an impact through the next news cycle or even the next election cycle. He wanted to make generational-level change. It’s been over 100 years since he laid the cornerstone of this building. Grace Capital City wants this church to be an active worshipping home and a place of faith in action for another 100 years.