In the shadow of our nation’s Capitol

dc capitol and churchBy Gary Flanagan

Washington, District of Columbia. The U.S. Capitol was completed in 1800 and at first separation of church and state was nonexistent. Religious services were held within its halls every Sunday and attended by presidents starting with Thomas Jefferson. This continued well into the middle of the century with preachers of numerous faiths taking turns leading in assembled worship.

I visited in March 2013 looking to find the closest current churches to the Capitol building. Within two blocks behind the east entrance was a neighborhood of multiple places of worship. Separating this neighborhood from the Capitol are two iconic buildings: the Library of Congress (or Jefferson Building) and the Supreme Court. No hedges or walls of separation. Just words of interpretation regarding the relationship between church and state.

There is a road that acts as a gap in this hedge of words between the library and the Supreme Court. A one-and-a-half block down East Capitol street from the visitors entrance one will find the closest church in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, namely Lutheran Church of the Reformation. Within six blocks both north and south of the church lies Faith Tabernacle United Holy Church of America, St. Joseph’s Capitol Hill Roman Catholic Church, St. Mark’s Episcopal, Waugh Methodist Church, Capitol Hill First Baptist Church and Capitol Hill Presbyterian.

Symbolism through the passage of time speaks volumes on the first stop of our tour. In 1800 a United States Capitol was born. In 2014, a garden of God has clearly been established in the Capitol Hill neighborhood two blocks away. In the landscape between these churches and state, men and women chronicle and debate the significance of the divide.

Next week, a Commonwealth and the 10th state.

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