Former U.S. Congressman Walter E. Fauntroy entered the sanctuary Sunday at New Bethel Baptist Church in northwest D.C. just as the Rev. Dexter Nutall asked parishioners to bow their heads and pray.
When the side door to the sanctuary opened, members raised their heads and immediately stood to their feet to applaud the return of their beloved pastor who led the congregation for half a century.
“You surprised me, Doc,” announced Nutall, who succeeded Fauntroy when he retired in 2009. Nutall looked down from the pulpit overlooking the congregation and told Fauntroy, “You came at the right time.”
Still strikingly fit and dapper in a navy blue jacket, tie and white slacks, Fauntroy, 83, shook hands with church officials and members as he made his way across the front-row pew to a reserved seat. Instead of sitting, he made his way to the choir loft where his wife Dorothy stood and gave her a warm embrace. The congregation erupted.
It’s been more than four years since Fauntroy left the District to allegedly pursue business opportunities in the Persian Gulf. When he left, he was facing charges in Prince George’s County for writing a bad check to the Gaylord Hotel in Prince George’s County for an inaugural event planned for President Obama in 2009. The event was cancelled but the amount of $55,000 remained outstanding.
Last year, members of the New Bethel congregation, former staffers from his congressional office and friends caught wind that Mrs. Fauntroy, the wife of the former congressman and civil rights leader, was facing financial difficulties. Efforts to foreclose on their home in the Crestwood neighborhood and much needed maintenance of the property were of grave concern to the group led by civil rights attorney Johnny Barnes, who helped launch a fundraising campaign on Mrs. Fauntroy’s behalf. She and others were periodically in touch with her husband of 53 years, but it was unclear if or when he would be returning to his Northwest home.
In May, Barnes learned that Fauntroy wanted to return and a small envoy travelled to a town just north of Dubai, where he was staying with a family there, and accompanied him back to Washington. When he arrived at Dulles Airport on June 27, he was immediately arrested and jailed in Loudoun County for an outstanding bench warrant related to the Prince George’s case, but released later that day.
“I haven’t seen this many past members at church in a long time,” observed one church usher.
The sanctuary was full. The choir sang their hearts out and the musicians set the tone for an inspirational 10 a.m. Sunday morning worship service. Many in the sanctuary were recipients of an email announcing Fauntroy would be delivering the Sunday morning sermon. Fauntroy served as pastor at New Bethel for 50 years before retiring in 2009. However, instead of heading to the pulpit, he returned to his seat in the pew until he was invited by Nutall to deliver the closing prayer at the end of the service.
Nutall, who succeeded Fauntroy as pastor, opened his message saying, “Praise God for the return of Reverend Walter Fauntroy.” And then he turned to Mrs. Fauntroy and said, “And thank God for the faithfulness of Dorothy.”