Mable Semple works two days a week at the food pantry and clothes closet at Brighter Day Ministries' Congress Heights campus in Southeast. She says that while an Oct. 29 fire took its toll, she and her husband George still choose to come over and reach out to the people. (Dorothy Rowley/The Washington Informer)
Mable Semple works two days a week at the food pantry and clothes closet at Brighter Day Ministries' Congress Heights campus in Southeast. She says that while an Oct. 29 fire took its toll, she and her husband George still choose to come over and reach out to the people. (Dorothy Rowley/The Washington Informer)

For one of the two tight-knit congregations of Brighter Day Ministries, a recent fire has only bolstered what has been perceived as a “divine message” to keep toiling on behalf of its community’s neediest residents.

While the Oct. 29 electrical fire destroyed the steeple at BDM’s Congress Heights campus at 421 Alabama Ave., leaving behind a sopping wet balcony along with other substantial water damage, no harm was done to the sanctuary. The fire also failed to dampen the congregation’s spirit of giving as the holiday season approaches.

“We’re in the process rebuilding,” said George Semple, a trustee at the Congress Heights campus who, along with wife Mable, helps operate its food pantry and clothes closet two days a week.

“We’re always about serving our community and the fire just helped us to realize the importance of what we do,” Semple said. “After the fire, we were still getting food in as usual from the National Area Capital Food Bank, so we had to keep getting it out to those in need.”

Workers at the Congress Heights campus of Brighter Day Ministries, temporarily shuttered by an Oct. 29 fire, have operated from the parsonage, giving food and clothes to long lines of needy residents. (Dorothy Rowley/The Washington Informer)

The fire ignited in the steeple just weeks ahead of the holiday season, and according to Semple, it could have very well been the Lord’s way of ensuring unyielding help at one of the greatest times of need.

His wife, who staunchly believes in taking care of God’s people, concurred.

“The fire took its toll, but we still chose to come over and reach out to the people,” said Mable Semple. “I believe we’re doing God’s will, although our church has had a setback of its own. Sometimes we don’t stop just because unfortunate things happen. I’m sorry about the fire, but it also could be a test where God wants to see where we go from here, to see if we’re still going to take care of His people.

“We don’t let incidents stop us from serving God’s people,” she said, adding that as many as 119 families were served in just one day a week ago. “And we anticipate the number growing as we get closer to Thanksgiving Day.”

Mable said that while the campus didn’t receive turkeys this year, they were just as fortunate to get an abundant supply of hams that were quickly given away.

“We tried to get [Ward 8] Council member Trayon White to help get us some turkeys, but he never returned my call,” she said. “I keep inviting him to come out here to see all the good we’re doing for this community with all the people we serve. I was thinking he would have been glad to help us.”

Lay Minister Nate Howard echoed the Semples’ sentiments, saying the church has always been outwardly focused.

“We have lots of outreach programs and we’ve had many positive experiences from our community,” said Howard, who alluded to a community dinner held Nov. 25 at the AP Shaw campus at 2525 12th Place SE.

Howard said that while insurance will cover Congress Heights’ water damage, church officials are having asbestos and mold checks done to ensure the building’s safety.

Meanwhile, Howard said BDM congregants feel blessed to have two sites, meaning that Congress Heights’ services will not be interrupted, as its members can convene for worship Sundays at 11 a.m. at the AP Shaw Campus until they get the nod to resume activities at their own location.

Both the food bank and clothes closet, which are open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday and Thursdays, operate from the Congress Heights parsonage, which sits adjacent to the church at 421 Alabama Ave. SE.

“The only requirement for receiving food and clothing is that those in need have to show some form of identification,” said George Semple, adding that after this week, both services will be shuttered through Dec. 3.

A man who only identified himself only as “Anthony” said he’s been coming to the food pantry and clothes closet for the past three years.

“It’s been great. Good people work here,” he said. “I think it’s great that the church has suffered its own loss but is still reaching out to help the community.”

George and Mable Semple both nodded in agreement.

“In spite of the fire, we’ve still been a backup serving the needy,” Mable said. “As long as God gives us the breath, we will continue to serve the community.”

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