Thursday, November 27, 2008

Developmental Studies at Mount Vernon Place UMC

Inspired by Katie, I would also like to briefly share my experience with Georgetown’s Community Based Learning Program. I am participating in the program through Professor Sam Marullo’s sociology class, “The Contemporary City.” This semester, I have spent a large amount of time working with Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church (MVPUMC). The Church is located at 900 Massachusetts Avenue NW. Its Greco-Roman architecture is very recognizable, especially to those entering Washington via New York Avenue. Recently, MVPUMC has undergone extremely extensive renovations. This renovation would not have been possible if the Church had not sold valuable property adjacent to its current location. A private developer is using the land which the congregation sold to build “trophy office space.” Although this may seem contradictory to the Church’s mission, MVPUMC has already bought back approximately two floors in the new building.

Working with a classmate, I have created a report analyzing the congregation’s faith-based development initiatives. My professor is involved with an organization called Faithworks, Inc. Composed of numerous community leaders, Faithworks assists churches in developing their assets with a mind toward the values of their congregation and community. This may include creating affordable housing, educational opportunities, or other resources strongly benefitting the needs of the immediate community. In the past several months, I have met with numerous leaders at MVPUMC. I have spoken extensively with the MVP’s current pastor, Donna Claycomb Sokol. She has been extremely helpful in revealing to me the reasons for her congregation’s development. We have also spoken with several other members of the congregation involved in the decision-making process and future planning.

This CBL project has been invaluable because it has given me an inside perspective on the grounded reality in which non-profit organizations must operate. These organizations are often very value-oriented, but it is ridiculous for them to function strictly on these principles. As I have seen, there must be a strong degree of pragmatism. For broader sociological reasons, the congregation of MVPUMC dwindled incredibly throughout the second half of the twentieth century. However, they recently been riding a strong wave of resurgence. Development in the region (such as Gallery Place and U Street Revival), pushed up property values allowing them to sell their adjacent property for a large amount of money. As a result, the Church has been able to continue its mission of uniting people in Faith and building a stronger community.

It has been quite rewarding seeing the ways in which social concepts can be applied directly to the surrounding community. I would strongly encourage others to participate in similar programs.

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