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Spiritual rebirth on Capitol Hill continues at the ‘Rez Church’

By Prioleau Alexander

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash.

Two years ago in the Carolina Compass, we wrote about the amazing journey of Father Dan Claire, from medical school to the ministry to planting a church in the secular world of Washington, D.C. His new church, the Church of the Resurrection, began in his and his wife’s Washington home, and grew — demanding an expansion to rented facilities. The average Sunday attendance grew to more than 300, many of whom were millennials.

Our publisher Charles Waring was recently in a meeting with the St. Michael’s missions team, and he heard more amazing news about the “Rez Church.” This inspired a follow-up interview, to find out the latest news.

Mercury: Please give our readers an update on the past two years, and the news of your recent purchase of a sanctuary.

Father Dan: In October 2018 the members of the Church of the Resurrection formally voted to purchase the historic 501 E St SE property for $4 million, with the goal of fundraising $1.5 million and financing $2.5 million. At that time we had $38,582 in our building fund.

In December 2018 we contracted with a professional fundraising company to help us. They told us that a congregation like ours, consisting primarily of young adults, would likely only be able to raise about $750,000 (and they planned to take a significant cut). After a week of working with them, we said our prayers and canceled the contract.

In January 2019 we launched the Planted Campaign, run by our own staff and volunteers. After 15 years as a church plant on Capitol Hill, it was time for us to put down deeper roots. In a city where every important institution is known for its building (e.g. the White House, the Capitol, the Kennedy Center, etc.), we knew that we needed our own facilities to serve the people of the city.

By February 2020, we were able to conclude the Planted Campaign, having raised the $1.5 million needed for the down payment (and still making our operating budget for the year). God’s people believed in the mission and gave sacrificially.

In March 2020, as the pandemic descended upon us, we shifted to online services and also began offering outdoor communion services near the Capitol in Lincoln Park. In the midst of so much political turmoil in the city, these outdoor communion services became an important public witness to our unity across political, social and racial lines. Everyone in the crowded city park those days could see that we are united under the high king, who spreads his table before us in the presence of our enemies. Our cup runneth over. We will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Miraculously, our congregation grew by roughly 20 percent during the pandemic. Who would have guessed that online services (on “RezTV”) could be an easy way for people to visit our church and decide whether it was for them?

In December 2020, after many false starts, we finally came to terms with Progress for Christ Baptist Church, the owners of the property. We agreed to “lease” the building back to them at no cost on Sundays and midweek for 18 months after completing the sale.

On January 22, 2021, we purchased 501 E St SE for $4 million… and on Ash Wednesday (February 17, 2021), 17 years to the day after our first public service on Capitol Hill, we began worshiping in our own permanent facilities five blocks from the U.S. Capitol. After seven rental facilities (two churches, three offices and two ministry houses), we were greatly relieved to be able to rest in our own home.

Mercury: We’re told you are enjoying much success with millennials ... which is a particularly difficult group to reach in most places — thoughts?

Father Dan: Our congregation is diverse, but it generally reflects the demographics of our neighborhood, Capitol Hill, which is a magnet for bright, passionate college graduates who feel called to change the world. In government work, just like everything else, all that glitters is not gold. It doesn’t take long for young adults to discover government’s inability to deliver the comprehensive solutions our society needs. Although m, government has an important role to play, only Jesus can heal our deepest maladies. Young adults are drawn to the vibrant community within our church, to an approach to worship that is focused expressly on Almighty God and to God’s enduring promises found in his Word and hopefully proclaimed from our pulpit.

Mercury: Many people look at D.C. and think of it as a very, very post-Christianity community — what are your thoughts on the “spiritual state of the district”?

Father Dan: Washington is a city of 700,000+ people. We love baseball, apple pie, concerts, board games and so on. Despite all the hype, life inside the D.C. beltway would look and feel very familiar to the people of South Carolina. And life on Capitol Hill, a neighborhood of some 40,000 people, is very similar to old Charleston. Restaurants, historic homes, backyard cookouts and lots of tourists.

Nevertheless, the cost of political division is high here, just as it is everywhere else in the USA. People on both the right and the left need Jesus. The never-ending parsing of winners and losers, insiders and outsiders, is a zero-sum game apart from the Lord. But thanks be to God for his inexpressible, surprising gift of Jesus, who rescues us from the suffocating, hopeless systems of a world of sin and death.

Mercury: As you know, there’s an old saying that goes, “The most segregated America gets is Sunday morning.” Despite a shared gospel, it is very difficult to integrate worship in Charleston — but perhaps that’s attributable to different races being raised with different norms and church cultures. What are you seeing in D.C. along these fronts?

Father Dan: The church in North America is still suffering the consequences of the ruthless caste system of racism that has been part of our culture from the very beginning. Now the secular solution is an equally unbearable caste system: the impossible elitism of identity politics. Again, in both cases, life without Jesus is a zero-sum game of winners and losers, insiders and outsiders. The good news of the Gospel is that everyone is welcome, everyone belongs, regardless of race, wealth, gender, etc. In the church, we need to live out this good news in our leadership, preaching, music, dress and so on. No culture should be normative except that of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

Mercury: Please offer some words of advice/encouragement to our local churches that may be going through tough times as a result of the COVID-19 nightmare.

Father Dan: St. Paul’s words for Timothy ought to be an encouragement to us all: “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season.” A small percentage of Christians are called to formal pulpit ministry within a congregation. All Christians are called to a preaching ministry of some sort, simply in terms of sharing the person and message and love of Christ with one another and the world. Now — during Covidtide — the person-to-person ministry of encouragement has never been greater. In many cases, though we want to continue meeting together, we are unable to do so. But that should not stop us from considering how we may stir up one another to love and good works, by encouraging one another all the more as we await the Lord. We have a wealth of ways to stay in touch with one another. This is the most vital work of ministry right now. Simply encouraging one another with the word of God, in the name of the Lord Jesus. Soon we will be back together again, and what a day of rejoicing that will be!

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The Carolina Compass is designed to appeal to the faithful as well as the seeker, giving historical windows into church life and showing the hands and feet of the faithful doing good works in their communities. We shall also shine a light on worldwide persecution of Christians and how we can support the faithful. A wide variety of perspectives on faith, mission work and healing will be inside the paper. Christian correspondents come from all over the globe and up and down our coast.
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