Our church is historic – the architect is the same who designed the Jefferson Memorial and the National Archives. Two Presidents, Johnson and Garfield, worshiped here , and there are stained glass windows dedicated to them inside. Don’t be intimidated. Our building may be grand, but with you in it, it will be even grander!
Milestones in National City Christian Church History
1843 – Seven people initiate a Disciples congregation in Washington, DC.
1851 – Alexander Campbell appeals to Disciples members in United States for $0.25 contributions toward $40,000 needed to build a church; around $850 raised.
1869 – Congregation buys chapel on M Street between 9th and 10th; moves it to Vermont Avenue in 1871. A news account of the time (early Mystery Worshipper) reported: “The auditorium is 45 x 35 feet and innocent of any ornamentation…The house is well-filled by an intelligent appearing audience, who occupy the waiting time in subdued conversation, friendly greetings and that hearty Christian frankness so grateful to a stranger, placing him at once in full possession of a pleasant ‘at home’ sensation.”
1881 – Fundraising picks up as memorial to associate church member President James Garfield after his assassination.
1884 – Vermont Avenue Christian Church dedicated; cost: $63,000. Congregation helps to establish sister churches around the area.
1895 – Membership up to 615 during pastorate of Dr. Frederick Power. First Board of Deaconesses elected. Several Sunday school and fellowship groups formed. Congregation supports missionaries in Africa.
1900 – Disciple churches purchase seashore property in Bethany Beach, Del.
1917 – World War I influx into Washington doubles congregation; reduced by one-third at end of war
1919 – Pastor Earle Wilfley begins appeals for new church building funds at Disciples conventions. Congregation begins to buy three lots (50,000 square feet for $345,000) on Thomas Circle.
1927 – Generous contributions from benefactors R.A. Long of Kansas City, Missouri, and the Phillips family of Pennsylvania. Fundraising commission formed; 225 leaders meet in Washington to plan campaign. Corporation established to hold title of church property in trust for Disciples denomination; corporation trustees to represent resident and non-resident members. Local congregation to have responsibility for conduct of services and maintenance of life and work of the church.
1929 – Donations and pledges sufficient for groundbreaking; cornerstone laid on Thomas Circle property. Mr. R.A. Long stated, “In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ we lay the cornerstone of a house to be erected here under the name of the National City Christian Church, to be devoted to the worship of our God and to the service of our fellow men.”
1930 – National City Christian Church sanctuary building completed and dedicated. Inscription over entrance doorway quotes Ephesians 2:20: “Being built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.” Many specific gifts provide for the ornamentation and furnishings of the sanctuary. Sunday school and other activities continue at the Vermont Avenue church two blocks away, due to lack of funds for education building. Great Depression in full swing, many building pledges could not be paid.
1932 – Radio broadcasts of NCCC’s Skinner organ.
1938 – Continued high level of debt puts church at risk. Pastor Raphael Miller appeals to creditors, members, and benefactors, and church remains solvent.
1940s – World War II brings large numbers of young people to Washington and NCCC. Fellowship and outreach efforts grow. Pastor J. Warren Hastings travels around the United States weekdays to raise funds to retire continuing large debt.
1948 – NCCC has 1,900 to 2,000 members.
1950 – Sanctuary mortgage burned and campaign for education building starts. Dr. Hastings continues heavy fundraising travel schedule. Church groups plan dinner events with entertainment by members. Community service projects expand.
1954 – Campbell Building completed – church now has classroom and fellowship space, choir rehearsal room and chapel.
1961 – Construction of Wilfley Memorial Prayer Chapel replicating Alexander Campbell’s study.
1962 – First publication of Lenten Devotional booklet with meditations by NCCC members. First presentation of Maundy Thursday living picture of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. Church members volunteer in community day care centers and an after-school program for children. Pastor George Davis welcomes Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson to NCCC; President Johnson and his family attend services regularly until 1969.
1960s on – Minister of Music Lawrence P. Schreiber leads NCCC choirs in many special programs.
1968 – Church buildings not damaged in city disturbances following assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Services continue as scheduled.
1972 on – Expansion of Summer Enrichment Program for community children. CWF members from NCCC and members from Luther Place Memorial Church establish women’s shelter and fundraising gift shop.
1973 – State funeral of President Johnson at NCCC. Dr. Davis and friends of President Johnson present tributes; Dr. Schreiber accompanies soloist Leontyne Price.
1976 – Gifts and benefit concerts fund rebuilding of sanctuary organ by Moller company.
1977 – Dr. William C. Howland, Jr. installed as senior pastor.
1977 – First female Elders elected at NCCC. Campaign for restoration of sanctuary begins under leadership of Pastor William C. Howland, Jr.
1978 – First female Deacons elected at NCCC.
1980 – Hispanic Fellowship initiated.
1981 – Sanctuary repairs completed.
1983 – Area under the sanctuary excavated to build undercroft containing a music suite, audio room, columbarium, and church meeting center.
1986 – Dedication of building named for benefactor Theodore Beasley, containing reception area, office space and conference rooms. Sanctuary organ rebuilt and enhanced again; second organ installed in balcony. International Gift Shop established to assist artisans in impoverished countries.
1998 – Dr. Alvin O. Jackson accepts call to become Senior Pastor of NCCC.
1999 – National City Christian Church joins Washington Interfaith Network (WIN), an interfaith service agency of 55 Washington congregations.
1999 – Denyce Graves sings in concert at National City’s Millennial Gala.
2000 – Dr. Lawrence P. Schreiber retires after forty years as Minister of Music at NCCC.
2001 – More than 900 attend Service of Prayer and Healing for the Nation after September 11 terrorist attacks.
2002 – An 8:30 a.m. Sunday Gospel service begins.
2003 – Three Resident Pastors are called as part of Lilly Endowment’s Transition into Ministry Program.
2003 – Gethsemane Mission Year begins as a year-long program of service and spiritual formation for post-college young adults.
2006 – Dr. Stephen W. Gentle begins ministry as National City’s senior minister. Charles Miller becomes new Minister of Music.
2007 – Street Team begins as a ministry of hospitality offering a beverage, muffin, and handshake at the base of the steps to passersby on Sunday mornings; Pet Blessing Service held on the steps of the Church. YADA (Young Adults) grows in numbers and spirit and have first retreat; Wahington Sinfonietta is housed at National City.
2008 – Music at Midday turns 25 years old; Pet Blessing and Bereavement Services planned; Thomas Circle Singers become housed at National City.
Where will you fit into our history?
The path this congregation has followed since its establishment in 1843 has not been easy and comfortable. The small fellowship first met in a succession of rented quarters, and at one point a prominent member’s driver asked if he might wait for the family at nearby New York Avenue Presbyterian so his peers would think he was associated with a real church.
Alexander Campbell’s early efforts to raise funds to realize his dream of a great Washington witness for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) met with minimal response from churches around the United States. The Washington congregation persisted, and in 1868 purchased a small frame chapel for their first church building. Under inspired pastoral leadership, the congregation continued to grow. In 1884, they dedicated the new Vermont Avenue Christian Church building to the memory of assassinated President James A. Garfield, an active member of the church for 18 years.
Having outgrown that building by the early 1900s, the congregation participated in a national Disciples of Christ fundraising campaign leading to the construction in 1930 of the meeting house on Thomas Circle where we worship today. Like cathedrals of old, this national church for the denomination was meant to express in its form praise and thanks to God, and to serve the community of humankind.
The Vermont Avenue congregation was asked to become the congregation of the national church and to take responsibility for its programs. The congregation has carried out this unique responsibility with devotion and with the loving support of Disciples throughout the United States. Given special opportunities and resources, the NCCC congregation has always taken seriously the expectation of its fellow Disciples churches that it will serve as an example of inclusiveness and of faith in action.
The construction and care of the physical property of National City Christian Church are the responsibility of the NCCC Foundation (formerly called the NCCC Corporation), established when the sanctuary was built and governed by a board of elected trustees representing Disciples churches throughout the United States and the local congregation. The Senior Pastor of NCCC also serves as President of the Foundation.
National City has been blessed for 150 years by pastors whose gifts have included both inspired preaching and visionary leadership, and by loyal members whose large and small donations of time and money have sustained and expanded the congregation’s ministries. This church has been a place where members value learning, appreciation of the arts, and concern for people and events in our immediate environs and beyond.
Now National City Christian Church is embarked on a new phase of the journey, when we seek to demonstrate fully our conviction that neither personal attributes nor public issues can be allowed to place divisions among people who love God, and to make witness and ministries the master spirit of our church community.
(Summary and timeline based on From Shanty to Cathedral: A History of the National City Christian Church, by Hilda E. Koontz, 1981, with updates from Ms. Koontz.)
For extensive tour notes about National City Christian Church, click here.
Ministers of National City Christian Church
Dr. James A. Barclay
Dr. Frederick D. Power 1875-1911
Dr. Earle Wilfley 1910-1931
Dr. Harvey H. Harmon 1931-1933
Dr. Raphael Harwood Miller 1933-1941
Dr. J. Warren Hastings 1942-1960
Dr. George R. Davis 1961-1976
Dr. William C. Howland, Jr. 1977-1995
Dr. Alvin O’Neal Jackson 1998-2004
Dr. Stephen W. Gentle 2006 to Present