Luther Place Memorial Church: A Church as Refuge/Sanctuary
Rev. John F. Steinbruck
Luther Place Memorial Church is in the heart of Washington, D.C., not far from the White House. It stands at a major urban intersection (of Massachusetts and Vermont Avenues and 14th and N Streets) through which people of every class and background pass--a crossroads of the good, the bad, the ugly, and often the beautiful. Sometimes the church is referred to metaphorically as an "oasis in the asphalt desert of the city."
Luther Place was founded at the close of the Civil War in memory of the fallen of the North and the South, and in celebration of freedom from slavery. Like many metropolitan churches, Luther Place for many years led a quiet existence as a racially segregated downtown congregation. Its restful history, however, began to change after World War II. With massive migrations of Southern blacks to the cities of the North, Washington became, as it is now, a predominantly African American city, with blacks comprising nearly 70% of the population. The black liberation movement, which began to take shape during the 1950s, often turned Washington into a focal point where the civil rights struggle was dramatized for all the nation to see. Deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill (without provision of adequate services and facilities for their treatment and assistance) and intractable urban poverty were swelling the population of the homeless. All the while, suburbs were developing rapidly, enticing residents from the crowded and turbulent city.
The result of these social changes was significant membership decline for Luther Place as many congregants opted for suburban security and