A program honoring the elders of Allen Chapel AME Church included long-standing members (clockwise from top left) Harrison Murphy, Allen Jefferson, Charles Young, Rev. John Thompson, Milton White, Leroy Cowan, Malcolm Peter Drewery, Earle Gumbs, Jesse Hamilton and Otha Lewis.
A program honoring the elders of Allen Chapel AME Church included long-standing members (clockwise from top left) Harrison Murphy, Allen Jefferson, Charles Young, Rev. John Thompson, Milton White, Leroy Cowan, Malcolm Peter Drewery, Earle Gumbs, Jesse Hamilton and Otha Lewis.

Church doors are slowly reopening following a more than two-year pandemic that required social distancing, mask-wearing, and places where people gather — even for worship — to close indefinitely.

It is still a tough decision for congregations to gather again to fellowship, worship, and celebrate religious and secular occasions while keeping members and guests safe from COVID-19 and the flu.  

In September, a Men’s Day Committee of Allen Chapel AME Church in Southeast began planning an elaborate celebration for their Men’s Day season but not without carefully considering how to do so safely. Lifting the theme: Men of Passion, Power & Promise — taken from Joshua 1:3 — they planned an outdoor fish fry, a fashion show with guests socially distanced, a guest preacher for their Sunday, November 21 service, as well as a brunch honoring elders and ancestors of the church on November 12, both where masks were required.

Many churches worldwide celebrate International Men’s Day, which falls annually on November 19. The day is set aside to recognize and honor men’s cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements. For churchgoers, it is also a day, and a season, for men to acknowledge their faith and its contributions to their accomplishments.

At Allen Chapel, often called the “Cathedral of Southeast,” the minimum age for the Men’s Day Brunch honorees was 80. There were 21 men aged 80 and above who were recognized, and 11 of them attended the midday affair.

What Allen Chapel Means to Community

Charles Young, 82, a senior licensed funeral director at Pope Funeral Home, said he joined Allen as a child in 1946. He was raised in Southeast and shared fond memories of attending youth activities on Friday nights, including movies. He not only recalled the small building on Alabama Avenue that housed Allen, but he accurately listed every pastor who led the church since it was established as Allen Garfield AME in 1850.

Leroy Cowan, 95, said he joined Allen because of its outreach programs. “My life has been about outreach,” he said. He organized a senior ministry in 1992, and he and his wife worked together supporting other ministries for 28 years before her death. “It’s [Allen] a place where people in need can come for worship and seek comfort,” he responded when asked what made him most proud to be a member of the church.

Lafayette Barnes, Sr., and 18-year-old Donyell Harris, a student at Montgomery College, co-hosted the program. Harris’s great-grandmother and great-grandfather were considered pillars of Allen, and he looks forward to following in their footsteps.

A room filled with about 150 people sang “Oh Happy Day,” a musical selection performed by Brian Glover, and later enjoyed a buffet spread including salmon, grits, potatoes, eggs, turkey bacon and sausage, and more. “This is too much food,” one guest commented.

Continuing Allen Chapel’s Legacy of Service

A video showing the new church’s groundbreaking in the 1980s was filmed by Allen Jackson and produced by Jose E. “Go Ye” Maldonado included many notables. Among them were the late Pastor Leon G. Lipscomb, leaders of the AME church, the late D.C. Mayor Marion S. Barry, former Ward 8 Council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark and Attorney Dovey Roundtree. 

Allen Trustee Paul Trantham performed the Calling of the Ancestors with the Tolling of the Bells as he announced the deceased men of the church who died over the past two years.

Later, Malcolm Peter Drewery, 93, delivered the keynote addressing the theme: Know Our Past to Lead Allen Forward.”

“This is not a popcorn church,” Drewery said. “It was built from the hearts of good men, and women, and children who love the Lord.”

“Can you imagine a church with no indoor toilet or air-conditioning? Envision how difficult it was to build the church using brick and mortar. Going from Allen Garfield to Allen Chapel shows we’ve gone through a lot of changes, and we’ve come a long way,” he concluded, “Our work has just begun. For some of us, this is our finish line, but the work is not done. There are people on the streets who need our help. It is time for the men of Allen to take the baton and bring our young people with us.”

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Denise Rolark Barnes

Denise Rolark Barnes is the publisher and second-generation owner of The Washington Informer, succeeding her father, the late Dr. Calvin W. Rolark, who founded the newspaper in 1964. The Washington...

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