In the Shadow of the Capitol: An Inside Look at Ministry in D.C.

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By Carl Stagner

Less than three miles to the Lincoln Memorial. Only two to the Washington Monument. Just one mile to either the Capitol or the White House. Proximity to these national icons make ministry in Washington, D.C., anything but typical. Though she has crossed paths with Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, this pastor takes it all in stride. Cheryl Sanders and the flock she pastors at Third Street Church of God have a job to do, and they will not be deterred. They’re ambassadors for Christ in the nation’s capital.

ThirdStreetCHOG_WashingtonDC_streetview_FORWEBSome churches are located in the heart of the city. Others are in the suburbs, and some are in rural settings. The location of Third Street Church of God makes it perfect for reaching a vast cross-section of people. “The Capitol can be viewed easily from the steps in front of our church,” Cheryl explains. “Our location is at the crossroads of the city, and the volume of commuter traffic from Maryland, Virginia, and other sections of D.C. deposits more than ten thousand vehicles directly in front of our doorstep each day—where they wait for the traffic light to allow them to merge with another forty thousand or more vehicles entering the Third Street Tunnel one block to the south.”

Clinton_and_CherylSanders2000_crop_FORWEBThrough their doors, the church has welcomed numerous high-profile guests from the United States government. Former Ohio Representative Tony Hall was one, who would also often volunteer for the church’s Urban Prayer Breakfast. A high-ranking administrator for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) attends the church today. Other visitors and regular attendees have also worked at Capitol Hill, at the White House, and for a myriad of agencies, such as the Departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security, Agriculture, Treasury, as well as the CIA and the Federal Reserve.

Bush_and_CherylSanders2002_crop_FORWEBAs pastor of the church, Cheryl Sanders has had even more opportunities to represent Christ in high-profile settings. She has personally met each president since she began serving at Third Street in 1997. She’s offered the opening prayer for the House of Representatives. She delivered a presentation at a faith forum sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus. She and members of the congregation also participate in presidential inaugurations, the National Prayer Breakfast, other prayer rallies, and even protests. It’s not uncommon for the church to welcome visitors from around the world—those on business, attending conferences, or on vacation.

Obama_and_CherylSanders2014_FORWEBBut it’s not about the notoriety. It’s not about brushing up against celebrities. It’s also not about politics. Pastor Cheryl and Third Street Church of God are simply shining the light of Christ where God has planted them. And, there’s far more to Washington, D.C., than politicians and wealthy lobbyists. “Washington, D.C., is an exciting, invigorating place to do ministry as witnesses of the transforming power of Jesus Christ,” Cheryl explains. “In our mission statement we proclaim our identity as ambassadors for Christ in the nation’s capital. This mission requires us to engage all kinds of people—poor and affluent, urban and suburban, native-born and foreign-born, highly educated and illiterate—the list goes on. Our method is to offer a warm welcome to everyone, and to share with them the message of reconciliation that has been entrusted to us.”

Challenges to doing ministry in D.C. include many issues common to urban centers. But perhaps unique to Washington, D.C., is the high cost of living and doing business. “With that,” Cheryl explains, “comes people caught in the extremes of wealth and poverty. For decades our church has extended food, hospitality and social services to unhoused persons who live on the streets and in the local shelters.”

So when you pray for Washington, D.C., don’t just pray for our leaders in government. There’s an entire city of people who have very little to do with politics, many of whom have never experienced the love of Christ. “Pray for justice, equity, and civility for all of our citizens, and for good public policy…Pray for the members of Third Street Church of God to be faithful and effective witnesses for Jesus Christ in every arena open to us in Washington, D.C.—from the Hill to the homeless shelters.”

Learn more about the Church of God at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.

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