Janice Mynchenberg

Janice Mynchenberg became pastor of the Georgetown Lutheran Church in 2013. In this interview she reflects upon the history of this church which occupies the northwest corner of Volta Place and Wisconsin Avenue. The church established itself in 1766 when a group of Lutheran Germans, attracted by an offer of cheap land, selected the location at 4th and High Street for their church. They built a log cabin in the same location that the existing church stands today. The cornerstone was laid in 1769. Pastor Mynchenberg’s comments highlight how service to the immediate community has been important to the identity of the church since its founding and continues to be central to its mission today.

Over recent years the Georgetown community has enjoyed the extensive, colorful garden that surrounds the church. Pastor Mynchenberg commends the dedicated service of its gardener, Valentine Garcia, who can be found working in the garden throughout the year.

Her delight and spiritual commitment to her role as leader of this community makes this interview particularly engaging. Pastor Mynchenberg is thrilled to be living in Washington and finds the living history of Georgetown to be an added bonus to her work with her congregation.

Interview Date:
Monday, July 7, 2014
Cathy Farell

Cathy Farrell: Cathy Farrell is recording today with Janice Mychenberg. The date is July, 7 2014. We are sitting in Janice’s office at the Georgetown Lutheran Church at the corner of Volta and Wisconsin.
Cathy: I became acquainted with the church as a result of an invitation posted online, inviting people to come to celebrate the 247th…
Janice: 45th.
Cathy: 245th anniversary of the church. Would you share with us some of the history about the founding of this particular church?
Janice: We don’t have a whole lot of records from the early church. We do know that the first people came from the Palatine area in Germany, and that they built a log cabin on this site.
They continued to hold worship services for years, and years, and years, but not always with Lutheran pastors. They would grab whatever pastor happened to be traveling through the area to come and lead worship services, because they did not have their own pastor at that time. It was a hundred years before they had a pastor of their own, so they were rather ecumenically minded Lutherans!
And interestingly enough, when they finally did get their pastor, they voted at that time that they would be an English speaking congregation, not a German speaking congregation because they didn’t want to limit who would feel welcome in their church. I think that had a lot to do with that heritage of depending on folks from other denominations now and then, to help them to stay a worshiping entity.
Cathy: Do you have any idea how many members there were in the early founding years?
Janice: I’m not sure from year to year, but when they finally formed a church and called a pastor they had 25 members.
Cathy: That was how many years later?
Janice: That was a 100 years after the founding, so that was in the middle of the 19th century. We assume that it never really got to be a very big congregation. It was just a really tenacious group.
Cathy: Is there any evidence of why they chose this area to settle?
Janice: They were given the land here to build a church on. They petitioned for a piece of land to become church land and they were given this particular spot. It was laid out for them.
Cathy: To whom did they petition?
Janice: The Maryland government. This was a part of Maryland colony at the time, so Maryland designated this to be the German Lutheran Church. The log cabin burned down and they had to build a second building, and they did that before they ever called a pastor, too. They were a very, very devoted group.
Cathy: Was this area of Georgetown primarily a farming community at that time, or was it a commercial entity?
Janice: It was quite a mixture of things, because we know that several of the different individuals were trades people of various kinds who were members of the church, or who attended the church.
It was not just a farming community. There was a lot of commercial activity going on, too.
Cathy: Georgetown was an active port at that time because there was the Port of Alexandria and the Port of Georgetown. Can you explain to me the origin of this area as it was known at the time…as Knaves Disappointment?
Janice: I can’t tell you anything about that.
Cathy: I was hoping you would be able to.
Janice: No. I’m sorry. I don’t know anything about that.
Cathy: I’ll continue to look for that origin of that term. It’s now Wisconsin and Volta, but in the history that I read by your music director, it said that this was 4th Street and High Street. High Street, I assume was Wisconsin Avenue.
Janice: Yes, I would think so.
Cathy: Then, the 4th Street was the cross street. When was this particular building constructed?
Janice: This building is 100 years old. It was dedicated 100 years ago, this year. It was because the building that they had, which was their third church at the time needed to have a lot of work done on it, and one of the members of the church in his will left money to build a new sanctuary.
Cathy: Is that the dedication that’s on the outside of the front door?
Janice: That’s the dedication, Daniel Ely.
Cathy: Daniel Ely left the money to build a church?
Janice: Yes.
Cathy: I assume it was finished in 1914 then.
Janice: The sanctuary was finished in 1914 and dedicated on…
Cathy: The sanctuary, as I mentioned, is considerably larger than the appearance from the outside.
Janice: Yes, they were good managers of their space.
Cathy: Excellent. It was beautifully done, and you have a garden behind, as well as the…
Janice: A little bit of a garden behind, not really much, a little meditation garden.
Cathy: Can you tell me anything about the history over the last 50 years of the church primarily in its relationship to the community of Georgetown?
Janice: The church has gone through an awful lot of changes in the past 50 years. They used to have a cemetery around the building. They used to pretty much own the block. Over time bits and pieces of that were sold off.
The people in the cemetery were moved to Oak Hill. I believe it is that they were moved to, and the land was sold for various and sundry reasons. Next door used to be a parsonage and that was torn down to build the parish hall that we have now. That happened in the ’50s, that they built the parish hall. The church was growing and pretty prosperous at that time, and in the ’60s I know they were quite involved with a lot of the civil rights campaigns that were going on, and were a very politically active congregation.
I don’t know exactly how Georgetown fits into that except that a lot of the members lived in the Georgetown area and just walked to the church. There’s not, as you see, a whole lot of parking for our facility, and the belief was that we would always be a neighborhood church and we would never really need that parking because we were serving a particular community and its needs.
Cathy: True to its founding.
Janice: Yes. Very tenaciously staying here for the sake of where we were located, and of course, it’s even in the name that we’re Georgetown Lutheran Church. We didn’t pick any other kind of name, like St. Paul’s.
It is a theology of place as you call it. That pastor who built up the church walked the neighborhood constantly talking to people, and meeting people, and seeing what was going on, so that was very much the spirit of Georgetown in this congregation. The Whitman Walker Clinic was started here in our basement.
Cathy: I did not realize that.
Janice: It outgrew us, but it started here in the basement of this church. We now have a drama school in the basement of the church.
Cathy: What is the name of your drama school?
Janice: It’s the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts. I’m not sure of the exact formal name. They’ve been there for several years now. That’s another thing, this congregation has always been interested in the arts.
We have the drama school downstairs. We have an organization that rents space to teach rhythm and music to preschoolers. Three times a week they come in and do a couple classes a day with preschoolers. Just this past year the National Broadway Chorus made us their rehearsal home.
Cathy: Wonderful.
Janice: We’re very excited about that new connection that we have. That’s another way that it really reflects Georgetown is that commitment to the arts and culture of our community.
Cathy: Do you have any details about who or how, or events, that the church supported and was involved in during the civil rights era?
Janice: I don’t have the details of that. I’m sorry.
Cathy: That’s OK.
Janice: I’m actually a newer pastor. I only started in January. I was not around at that time, so what I know is bits and pieces of things that people have shared with me about the fact that they were involved in the civil rights movement in a very big way during the ’60s and the ’70s.
Cathy: Perhaps, you could put us in touch with some of those people who have those memories.
Janice: Maybe I can, sure, sure. I’ll see what I can do.
Cathy: That would be very interesting to pursue.
Janice: Yeah.
Cathy: How would you describe your congregation now? Are they still primarily Georgetown residents?
Janice: Actually, they are quite a mixture of people from a lot of different areas. We have a lot of people now who commute in to the congregation.
Some of them come because they used to live in Georgetown but they’ve moved away but still they come back. Some of them that just found this church and said when they came in, it felt like home to them and so they stayed here and they’re part of it. We have some people that have traveled through because they’re international folks that have to be located in this area for a while and they come and become part of this congregation.
One of the things that struck me when I was going through the history and learning the history is back at the turn of the century, the pastor was talking about how broad the congregation was. They even had a Korean member at that time. There’s always been a cosmopolitan feel and we still have something of a cosmopolitan feel to the congregation that gathers here.
We have quite a lot of tourists that come by, because it’s a historic building. It’s very easy to see and they say, “Oh, I have to go to church somewhere, let me come here.” We have all kinds of people who have nothing to do with the Lutheran church, but they come and worship with us since they’re passing through.
We never know quite who the congregation’s going to be on Sunday morning, because a lot of our members are in jobs where they travel a lot and so very often, we have mostly tourists for some Sundays and then we get a combination. Then, it’s just an exciting thing that I never know quite who I’m preparing for, you know.
Cathy: [laughs]
Janice: Whoever God sends, we make a worship service together.
Cathy: That’s very nice.
Janice: It is, it’s very exciting and it’s a real exercise in hospitality. How do you create a worship experience that makes people comfortable?
Cathy: Instantly comfortable.
Janice: Those who have not been part of your worship tradition.
Cathy: Oh, that’s quite a challenge for you every Sunday.
Janice: Yes it is, and not just for me, for the congregation. Because they do the greeting and they usher in. They watch out for people that they know or knew and if they seem to be lost, they help them out and it’s a community welcoming, not just the pastor’s responsibility. The whole congregation takes part in doing that.
Cathy: That sounds positively wonderful.
Janice: Yeah, which is part of why it feels so homey.
Cathy: A nice place to come to work everyday and to be a part of.
Janice: It is.
Cathy: How about the outreach programs that are currently a part of your mission at the church?
Janice: We’re part of the Georgetown Ministerial Association so we do a lot of our work through that association, but here at the church itself, we do a community Thanksgiving dinner that is open for anybody who wants to come.
The day before Thanksgiving, we have a dinner, which actually I’d been told, started out as a special project of the gay and lesbian members in the congregation. They wanted a place where they could gather because they couldn’t always be with their families and it grew into an anybody and everybody come event. Anybody who doesn’t have a family to be with comes here. That’s one of the things we do.
We prepare sandwich bag lunches for the Salvation Army twice a month. We have a group that does that and it’s amazing. The clockwork, they have that so organized because they know exactly how many bags they have to fill. They lay out the bread all over the table in the kitchen.
It’s covered with just pieces of bread and one row is the top and one row is where you put the cheese and one row’s where you put the toppings, you know. It’s just like a factory in there when they make these. They’ve got that down.
Cathy: They do that in the morning and then deliver them?
Janice: They do that on the Sunday morning. In the evening, the Salvation Army comes and picks them up.
Cathy: Oh, they do pick them up. That’s very nice.
Janice: Yeah, that is very nice. We’re very proud of that project. Then, we house a winter shelter. We’re part of a group of churches that open their doors for homeless folks during the winter. Two to three weeks in the winter we will have a number of homeless folks staying overnight in our church and we provide them with dinner and breakfast.
Cathy: Do they sleep downstairs?
Janice: They sleep in the sanctuary. They set up cots in there and some of them like to sleep in the pews and so we have sleeping bags and they sleep in the pews and that’s where they sleep.
Cathy: The various different churches do it for two weeks?
Janice: Several different churches do it and so…
Cathy: It rotates throughout the winter so there’s always a warm place to sleep?
Janice: It rotates through the winter, yeah. This past winter because it was so awful, we opened up our church early a couple of times because the water was so bitter cold and let people come in all day and stay here. That’s another of the outreach programs that we’re really pleased with.
Then, we also were part of ELCA, a Lutheran group of churches that did a booth for the gay pride festival. The theme was weddings this year.
Cathy: An appropriate theme for this year.
Janice: They made a great big wedding cake that drew everybody to the booth. They wanted to see the wedding cake, so that’s another of the outreach things that we’ve done in the time that I’ve been here. My time has been short here so I’m not aware of quite all that they do and we have different individuals that do things, but we don’t do it as a body necessarily.
Cathy: How large is your congregation at this time?
Janice: Congregation is around a hundred people right now.
Cathy: Sounds like a very nice number for you to deal with.
Janice: It is.
Cathy: They come from various different areas, not just from Georgetown, anymore?
Janice: Not just from Georgetown.
Cathy: They all participate in the community life of Georgetown, then?
Janice: Yeah, right now, we’re talking about, there’ll be a… what’s the word I want… a marathon at Georgetown University in the fall and the churches are going to be part of that, raising money for the Georgetown Ministerial Association. There’ll be food and I think it’s walking rather than running marathon that the churches are organizing for the fall.
Cathy: Oh, that’s very nice.
Janice: Yeah.
Cathy: It said in the statement that I read that you are active at Georgetown University with students.
Janice: The former pastor was quite active. I’ve not been so active in the time that I’ve been here because I came in the middle of the year and first had to get to know the congregation. We’re hoping this fall to get back into the swing of things on campus, but traditionally, this church has been involved in the campus.
Cathy: That’s very nice.
Janice: We have a number of college students that come to the church now and then.
Cathy: Are there any areas about the congregation or the service of the church that I haven’t asked about that you would want to comment on? How about relics or things of interest, historical documents or various items, could you tell us a little bit about the origins of the cross collection?
Janice: The origin of the cross collection is because of a member of this congregation, Bob Hand, came up with the notion that he’d like to hang some crosses and asked people if they had crosses that he could use for that project and once he started that, you may have noticed, there’s a sign up, “When you travel, please bring us a cross.”
People kept doing that from different states and from different countries and that’s how we got such a wide collection and we actually have more crosses than we can hang. Bob every so often rotates what’s hanging on the walls, but that was the vision of one man, Bob Hand, that created that.
Cathy: I’ve taken a picture of it. We’ll include it with your interview. Thank you so much.
Janice: Yeah.
Cathy: What about the Bible that is in the hallway?
Janice: That’s one of the old Bibles here at the church. We’re not sure if it was original with the first settlers, but certainly, it goes way back and it’s German and the German script and all and so we’ve preserved that Bible. We have a stained glass window that hangs in the hall. You maybe noticed when you came in and you maybe didn’t, but it’s across from the crosses and that’s from one of the older buildings. The stained glass window was a…
Cathy: The second building, perhaps?
Janice: Perhaps the second building, perhaps the third, but they saved that stained glass window. There was a bell in the bell tower at one point and when things got hard, they sold their bell for scrap metal during the civil war. Miraculously, several years later, it was discovered in a dump in West Virginia and it was marked. The people there got in contact with this church and said, “Would you like your bell back?” and they said, “Sure.” They bought their bell back and we have it, although there’s a crack in it so we don’t ring it.
Cathy: But you have it back. Like the Liberty Bell, it has a crack in it, too.
Janice: Yeah. But we got our church bell back, yeah.
Cathy: That’s amazing and it was sold during the civil war, you said.
Janice: During the civil war and it was partly because the church needed the money and partly because the forces needed metal. It was about 25 30 years before they got it back. It never got melted down like it was supposed to.
Cathy: Any other incidences of little historical tidbits in relationship to that period of time, perhaps the civil war, any stories you could…?
Janice: It was after the civil war that they got their first pastor, just after the civil war, and as I said, they had 25 members.
They also had a school that was meeting in the church. When they called the pastor, they voted that they would discontinue the school and decided they would devote themselves only to being a church, and they would have their services in English.
Cathy: That’s when the change came.
Janice: They established this pastor and after a year, he had 12 or 13 members because it split the church, these decisions that they were making. So after the split they couldn’t support a pastor anymore, and so he had to leave. They were thinking, “Perhaps we made a terrible mistake and overstepped trying to bring a pastor here in all this.”
Another pastor came who was willing to work without salary. Interesting that after the split they immediately got another pastor who stayed with them for a number of years without a salary. We think his wife must have had some kind of occupation, and of course, they would pay him in produce, services, and all of that. He stayed and helped them to rebuild to the point where then they could pay a third pastor. Since then, they have had pastors.
Cathy: And a steady congregation?
Janice: And a steady congregation through all these ups and downs. When you look at the history, they slide into small number and you’d think, oh, they’re never going to survive. They’re going to be closing and then they will work and build themselves right back again.
Cathy: It’s cyclical?
Janice: Yeah, it is, it is.
Cathy: Interesting.
Janice: This organ now, it was a quarter of a million dollar project to build that organ and bring it down. It was one of the times when the congregation didn’t have much of anything. They didn’t have a whole lot of members and they were feeling like, you know, we’re an awfully small congregation, but the organ up in front could not be repaired any longer.
They had nursed it along as far as they could nurse it and they just could not envision a church without an organ. They voted on faith that they would spend that kind of money and they would buy an organ and by gone and by golly, they paid that organ off within just a small number of years. They paid it completely off, and so, they didn’t have any lingering debt from purchasing that organ.
Cathy: Any reason why they chose an organ maker in Lynchburg, Virginia? I just thought it was curious that it was close by.
Janice: I don’t know how it was chosen. I don’t know how they determined who was going to make the organ, but I think there was a sense that it had to be specially made for the space that they had. They couldn’t have just anybody send them any organ. It had to be something that was designed to fit the space that was available.
Cathy: Then, they modified that space?
Janice: They modified the chapel, but it would have to fit into that chapel space. They weren’t going to modify the whole building for an organ, though they’ve had a lot of debates about it. Some of them wanted to knock out a sidewall and put the organ to the side and all, but they determined that the back chapel space was where the organ would be. Then, they had to find somebody who could design an organ that would fit there.
Cathy: Perhaps that person lived in Lynchburg, Virginia?
Janice: Yeah and I’m assuming they hunted around and got bids and that was the person that could do it for them.
Cathy: Interesting.
Janice: But it came here in bits and pieces and had to be assembled here. That was quite a project, too.
Cathy: I bet that was. Your music program seems to be very active.
Janice: We have a really, really fine musician in Pat Henry. She plays piano as well as organ. She runs a choir for us and we have a number of guest musicians that she knows and brings in for us, but here’s another of those miraculous stories.
Cathy: OK.
Janice: In the season of Lent, I said to Pat, “I wish we had someone who could play the violin because Good Friday…it would be so marvelous if we could end the service with a lone violin playing “Were You There? “ Nothing sobs like a violin. That would be so wonderful.”
Pat said, “Well, yeah, that would be wonderful, but I don’t know anybody.” I said, “Well, then we just can’t do it, but oh, that would be so good.” The very next week, a young gal from the college community came walking through the doors and said, “I’ve been wanting to get connected with the church and I’ve been wanting a chance to play my violin again. I haven’t played it in a while. Would you mind if I came and played for the church sometimes?”
Heavens no, and we had “Were You There?” solo violin on Good Friday.
Cathy: That’s an amazing story.
Janice: Yeah.
Cathy: Providence.
Janice: Yeah, this happens all the time with this congregation, things like that.
Cathy: That’s quite wonderful, the miraculous.
Janice: Yeah, I am convinced that the congregation is still here because God keeps doing these minor miracles to keep it in place. Just when you think, well, we can’t do it, God will provide some little miracles. Oh, I guess we can and we keep going here.
Cathy: You just keep going.
Janice: Yeah.
Cathy: That’s very nice.
Janice: It is very nice.
Cathy: Your spirit is infectious. I feel it is.
Janice: I’m just really excited about this congregation. I came from Chattanooga, Tennessee to interview here. I went home and I said, “You know, I loved the building. I loved the whole feel of the building. I love the cross collection.”
I also spent time in the sanctuary and I sat and counted all the crosses in the sanctuary. I said, “This is a congregation that knows what it is to suffer and survive.” I can tell that and that feels really, really good and I love the people in the counsel.
They just seem like a great group to work with, but I can’t drive in D.C. I know that. I don’t know if I can take this call, because there’s not good parking in the area. I have depth perception problems. I can’t parallel park easily. I guess I have to turn it down, and my partner said to me, “Well, it’s Washington D.C., Janice, just use public transportation. You don’t ever have to drive.”
Cathy: Take the bus. [laughs]
Janice: I said, “Oh, then, I’m going. That’s the only problem. I’m going. I’m going.” Because I never lived in a big urban area before and it hadn’t even occurred to me there was any other option.
Cathy: Chattanooga is not too tiny, but…
Janice: No, but you know, I could drive around Chattanooga and park anywhere.
Cathy: Yeah.
Janice: I never thought about public transportation in Chattanooga.
Cathy: You don’t speak with a Southern accent, though. Tennessee is…
Janice: No, I’m an Ohio girl.
Cathy: All right.
Janice: Originally, an Ohio girl, yeah.
Cathy: I thought maybe Mid Western.
Janice: Yeah, but I was in the South for many, many years. I think it’s been what, 15 years, I lived in the South and served churches in Memphis, Huntsville and Chattanooga.
Cathy: OK, you have moved around a bit.
Janice: Yes.
Cathy: What are your impressions of Georgetown and moving into this area, being a newcomer?
Janice: See, my dad’s a history teacher, so for me, to come to Georgetown is like a dream come true to be in such a historical environment… the whole nation’s capital and all of the things that have happened in this place.
It’s just an amazing thing to me. The second week I was here, I took a taxi past the White House. It just made me shiver, you know. What an extraordinary environment to be living in and the sense that so many important, crucial things can be done in this place by people that we know in some way and are connected with, is very humbling and exciting at the same time.
I’m really looking forward to spending a lot of time just walking around Georgetown and drinking in all the houses and old streets. I’ve done a bit of that, but there’s so much more that I haven’t seen yet and so, whenever we have a pastor’s meeting, I make sure I walk to it. I’m just so pleased to be in this part of the United States.
I was in Washington when I was seven years old. My family drove through Washington on the way to Florida and I remember being here at Christmas time and what I remember is that there was a big, big statue of a man and there were reindeer. That’s all I remembered of Washington, I have a lot to discover.
Cathy: [laughs] You have a lot to discover.
Janice: Yeah, and so it’s exhilarating to just be in this place and it’s doubly exhilarating to be in this church in this place.
Cathy: Yeah, obviously, you are very fond of this congregation.
Janice: Oh, I am.
Cathy: What about Wisconsin Avenue, the traffic, the noise, do you find that exhilarating?
Janice: The traffic and the noise on Wisconsin I see as basically a gift to the church because a lot of people pass us and we’ve had a lot of people who have come and knocked on our door just to know, we’d like to get to know you.
It looks so interesting and some of them stay. A lot of people want to have weddings here because they walk by and say, “Oh, that would be a nice place to have a wedding.” I see that as evangelism opportunity that there’s that much traffic on Wisconsin. Now, personally, I try to avoid having to do any kind of travelling during rush hours. I find that really a little too challenging for my taste. I will do it if I have to. I’ve done some changing in my lifestyle as to when I work and when I don’t work because of the traffic, but I haven’t found it to be that difficult an accommodation to make.
Cathy: No, when you have this beautiful garden and gorgeous tree to look at.
Janice: I have this huge cherry tree right outside my window. Yes, it’s a very inviting place to be.
Cathy: And a large comfortable looking window, too.
Janice: Yes.
Cathy: Lots and lots of light during the day and the late afternoon.
Janice: Yes, it does.
Cathy: And no noise at all?
Janice: It’s pretty quiet. When you’re really down here, the traffic on Wisconsin, unless you have an ambulance go by or somebody made some kind of huge ruckus out there, you don’t hear it. It’s amazing to me how much serenity there is close to all of that hubbub.
Cathy: Exactly.
Cathy: Tell me a little bit about your gardener. You have a terrifically eclectic garden filled with flowers of all shapes, sizes, colors, and dimensions.
Janice: Yes and he seems to have planned that garden in such a way that there’s always something in bloom.
Cathy: They’re all perennials.
Janice: Which is really exciting but they bloom at different times so that there’s always something beautiful to look at in that garden and he is a very, very diligent tender of that garden. The congregation is a great supporter of the project, too, because right now, we have a campaign going on to buy seeds for the garden for next year and people fill out the order form, what they want to contribute to the garden in honor of or in memory of somebody.
Cathy: That’s a nice way to do it.
Janice: We support the garden that way and then, this past year, the Sunday school students at the end of the Sunday school year, created a stepping-stone to go into the meditation garden. They decorated it with all kinds of little marbles and colored glass and wrote on it the Sunday school and the year. We dedicated that during one of our worship services. We all walked around and we placed the stone, prayed and dedicated that stone the Sunday school kids made for the garden.
Cathy: How long has your gardener been active?
Janice: Oh, I’m not sure how long he’s been active. He is not actually a member of the church. His partner is a member and it has been for quite some time, though I’m not sure exactly. I would say, probably 27 years, his partner’s been around, but I’m not sure when Valentine decided that he was really going to take up the garden as a ministry project.
That’s the other thing. We understand that garden to be a ministry that we do. We provide a place for people to rest and be refreshed. You see we have a seat out there. We have a seat in the meditation garden. We hang things on the fence that people can pick up, posters, pamphlets, and things that people can pick up. It’s all part of a ministry and it’s also a wildlife sanctuary, our garden.
Cathy: You have a lot of birds?
Janice: We’re very excited about that, yeah.
Cathy: That’s very nice.
Janice: We understand that as being part of our statement about the care of creation in this world that you stop and look at the wonder of what God can do.
Cathy: Thank you.
Janice: Yeah and we’re so excited that we have such a Valentine Garcia, such a wonderful gardener to help us with that ministry, to orchestrate that ministry for us.
Cathy: The garden is most impressive. I have noticed it for years as I have passed by.
Janice: Yeah, I had to share a taxi with somebody a while back and they asked why I was in D.C. and I said, “Well, I work at Georgetown Lutheran Church.” “Oh, that’s the church with that great garden.”
People know that garden. They don’t know the building. They know that garden. That’s there and is such an unusual thing on such a commercial street. It is a beautiful place to rest and all kinds of people come and with the gelato place next door they bring their gelato over and sit over here in the midst of this beautiful setting.
Cathy: On a day like today, the shade that garden provides is really valuable.
Janice: Yeah.
Cathy: There was a lady sitting on the bench when I came in today.
Janice: Oh, yeah.
Cathy: Just resting, sorting her purse.
Janice: We’re all happy about that, yeah.
Cathy: That’s very nice. Anything I’ve missed that you would like to share with this oral history project?
Janice: Oh, I don’t know. [laughs] I’m just so excited about this church and I don’t know that I can convey all that I feel.
Cathy: Do you have plans for the future that you’d want to share?
Janice: One of the things we’re looking toward is our 250th anniversary. We’re hoping to get a project going to repaired those front steps so we can actually open up the original front door of the church. Right now we can’t use them because the steps have disintegrated over time and come apart over time. That’s something that we’ve been talking about doing for the 250th.
Cathy: It would be nice, wouldn’t it, to be able to open the front doors?
Janice: To open the front door again, yeah, because right now, people have to come in the side and we do have a side exit on Volta that we use on Sunday mornings. We open that side of the church, but it would be nice to come in through the big front door right through the garden.
Cathy: I hope that your dream comes true.
Janice: I hope we’re able to do that, yeah.
Cathy That would be very nice. 250 years. Wow!
Janice: Yeah, five years from now. We have to get cracking, thinking about what we can do for that because that will be a huge anniversary. We’re the oldest continually worshiping congregation in the Georgetown area but we’re not the oldest building.
Cathy: You’re the oldest continuing worshiping congregation?
Janice: Worshiping in one spot as a congregation.
Cathy: In the Georgetown area?
Janice: Yeah, that’s a huge…Huge legacy to be able to boast of that, yeah.
Cathy: I like the early history, the idea that these people made some decisions when the church split, when you lost your ability to provide for a pastor.
Janice: They split over whether there should be a school or not in the building and whether or not they should remain German speaking.
Cathy: Where did the other part go?
Janice: They formed a different community and they’re no longer a church. They ended up going to different places but they originally tried to form another church and they did not make a go at that.
Cathy: They were not successful?
Janice: Yeah, they went to various places.
Cathy: OK. How many Lutheran churches are located in the district, do you happen to know?
Janice: I don’t know how many Lutheran ones there are because there are different kinds of Lutherans. We’re part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and in our synod which includes a few churches in Virginia and in Maryland, we have 79 churches, but that’s not just the district. It’s a little bit larger, 79 ELCA churches.
Cathy: All right, what is the other group of Lutheran church?
Janice: There are Missouri Synod Lutherans, Wisconsin Synod Lutherans, and there’s a Lutheran Prayer Fellowship and Lutheran Brethren. They’re various smaller groups. We’re the largest Lutheran group.
Cathy: The evangelical?
Janice: The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we’re the ones that ordain women among the Lutherans, yeah.
Cathy: All right.
Janice: Yeah.
Cathy: Congratulations.
Janice: That’s why I’m in it, yeah. That happened in my lifetime. When I was growing up, I knew I wanted to be a pastor. I felt called to be a pastor, but they didn’t ordain women. That changed in my lifetime and I was able to go to seminary.
Cathy: That’s very nice. Yeah, opportunity calls.
Janice: Yeah, it does, it does.
Cathy: Especially when you have the opportunity.
Janice: Yup.
Cathy: Yeah, that’s very nice. All right, if you think of anything else that you feel that…
Janice: I will see if I can find somebody who can give you more details about the civil rights activities in the ’60s and ’70s.
Cathy: I very much would like that.
Janice: I’ll see if I can find somebody that I can put you in touch with.
Cathy: Anybody in your congregation who’d be willing to talk about what they know about their history, even civil war memories, just collections of stories. I’d be glad to do short interviews, 10 15 minutes as well.
Janice: I’ll see if I can find some.
Cathy: Thank you for your partnership. That’s very nice.
Janice: We really appreciate somebody taking the time to record this, because we really feel we are a huge part of the history of this place.
Cathy: You are very much a part of the history of Georgetown. That’s really true. I’m wondering what other churches were even organized in Georgetown at the time.
Janice: Presbyterians are quite close.
Cathy: Down on?
Janice: I’m not sure which Presbyterian Church it is, but one of them is early here. It’s actually the oldest building among our church buildings and they had a ministry before the building was built, so one of the Presbyterian churches goes back a long, long way, but I can’t remember which church it is.
Cathy: Then, I guess, the Catholic Church…the university is founded in 1789.
Janice: Right, you know…
Cathy: That’s about the same period of time.
Janice: Yeah. We were here before the revolution.
Cathy: Amazing, you were all Englishmen, I guess, at that. [laughs]
Janice: No, they were Germans.
Cathy: They were Germans!
Janice: They were Germans that came.
Cathy: Living on English soil, I guess, since it was a colony.
Janice: Yeah. They wanted to be with other German speakers. That made life a little bit easier.
Cathy: We’ve always been a nation of immigrants.
Janice: Yeah, yeah.
Janice: Thank you.
Cathy: It’s been a pleasure.
Janice: Thank you. It’s been great.