For Sandy Tate, worshipping at Rock Creek Baptist Church meant making a 45-minute trek from Upper Marlboro, Md. into the District and then trolling for parking in the congested Petworth Community.
But now Tate’s church home is only 10 minutes away because after years of not having parking or the ability to expand, Rock Creek Baptist Church moved to a new home that sits on 25 acres of land. “Every time we came into the District we had to worry about parking and the police writing tickets,” said Tate, one of the trustees of a church that moved into Prince George’s County about three months ago.
The Rev. Jeffrey L. Mitchell Sr., pastor of the 144-year-old congregation, said the church tried for years to expand but about a decade ago realized there was no way to grow at their 8th and Upshur Streets, NW location. The church moved to Maryland in October.
“We couldn’t expand to do ministry,” Mitchell said. “Now we have parking, we have space, we have classrooms for learning, we now have enough room to do multiple things at once.”
But John-Paul C. Hayworth, the outgoing Ward 4 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, said while parking is a major problem in the area, he was surprised and “saddened” when he found out the church was moving. “I live four doors down from the church and I didn’t know until I saw the sign go up,” said Hayworth, adding he was particularly bothered that the church allowed the building to be torn down. “They put in a provision that the church would be demolished. The developer didn’t do that.”
But Reginald Haynie, chairman of the deacon board at Rock Creek, said the church had no choice but to move on. “They would ticket us on Sundays and parking became more restricted,” Haynie said. “My vision now is to share God’s word with everyone because we are in the middle of everywhere.”
Rock Creek is one of several Black churches to leave the District in the last four decades. Ebenezer AME, Jericho City of Praise, and Metropolitan Baptist Church were all large D.C. congregations that moved to Prince George’s County as real estate prices rose and young White families moved in. The old Rock Creek sanctuary was demolished to make way for four new row houses that will each hold two units. According to several sources, each unit will cost about $600,000.
Rock Creek has had several locations in its 144-year history, Mitchell said. The church has set up locations in Tenleytown, Foggy Bottom, and Eighth Street, where they remained from 1956 until Oct. 16, 2016.
Tate said while church has moved, every Sunday the church shuttles about 30 seniors from the Petworth community to the new sanctuary. “God is not doing a new thing we are just doing it in another way. The community is the church. There is a spiritual need out here,” Mitchell quoted from his wife.