Leading ACTor: Washington Street United Methodist Church
ACT for Alexandria envisions a community where all residents can achieve their full potential and where the color of one’s skin, ethnicity, or citizenship status do not determine their outcomes in life. On this journey to improve the lives of Alexandrians, we have been fortunate to have strong community partners – like Washington Street United Methodist Church – who share a desire to create and commit to a racially just Alexandria. A sponsor of ACT’s recent IMPACT Racial Equity Forum, ACT sat down with Washington Street’s Lead Pastor Thomas James and Director of Church and Community Engagement Kimberly Young to hear more about their church’s equity journey.
Washington Street United Methodist Church is 172 years old this year and has been located in the same building in the heart of Old Town since 1851. Part of a network of nine Methodist churches that exist within the city limits of Alexandria, Washington Street focuses its work and ministry on community building in Old Town. Although originally founded by southern-leaning separatists to uphold the institutions of the South, including the institution of slavery, the church began a journey in recent years to recognize its participation in oppression in the past and commit to becoming a community that centers equity for the future. Its mission statement centers on its belief that God is love. This central belief drives the church’s desire to create a place for everyone to know God’s love. As Pastor Thomas reflects, “If there are people in this community who because of their race are not being invited to know God’s love, then we’re not doing our job.”
Further elaborating, Pastor Thomas says, “When we acknowledge that in the midst of our community there is this cry for equity – when there is this need for community partners to help do this work – we have a faith-based requirement to respond to help address those concerns.”
Social equity matters to their ministry and congregation. As Kimberly Young notes, “The tragic nature of this past year has created an openness and willingness in the spirits of people to see beyond what we would call hot button issues like race to see humanity. We have to center the life. And when we center the life, I think that everything takes on a different perspective. We need to recognize our human connectedness with each and every person that shares air in this City.”
Washington Street also seeks ways to invest in organizations and people who are doing the work that needs to be done for the greater health, the greater equity of the community. When asked why the church chose to sponsor ACT’s Racial Equity Forum, Pastor Thomas responds, “ACT for Alexandria brings people together. You put power in the collective knowledge of the whole. You are listening to what people are saying – whether it’s from the city offices, nonprofit partners, or community residents – and you are shifting what you do to meet the changing needs of the community.” In addition to sponsoring the Forum, Pastor Thomas participated in ACT’s Racial Equity Learning Lab, a cohort program led by Service Never Sleeps for community leaders with a desire to grow individually and implement equity in their organizations. He explains, “Investing in racial equity is not about centering your voice. We are not the ones who have a solution on how to solve racial equity. If anything, we are the opposite – we can show you 170 years of how to do it wrong. If I have learned nothing else myself, it’s about getting the people at the table and giving power and space to the voices who need to be heard. Who for 400 years in this nation have not been heard. It’s about finding ways to center the voice in the power of others.”