History of Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ
Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ (formerly Covenant Baptist Church) has a unique history of steadfast service and commitment to a constantly changing community. The history of the church, located in the far southwest section of Washington, DC, can be divided into four parts: (1) an all-white beginning; (2) a racial transition; (3) a socio-economic transition; and, (4) “a new paradigm for a new day.”
Founded in 1945, the church began as an all-white, Southern Baptist congregation located at 126 Yuma Street, S.E. After transferring its worship services to the old Atlantic Theater in 1947, the church moved to its present location in 1950, with the completion and dedication of a new educational building. An adjoining second building, housing a commodious sanctuary and additional educational space, was dedicated in 1958, completing the current physical facility. Between 1945 and 1968, under the leadership of four different pastors—Rev. Harry How (1945-47), Rev. Frank L. Squires (1947-60), Rev. Roy L. Snell (1960-63), and Rev. Moncrief Jordan (1963-68)—the membership of Covenant peaked in 1965, but rapidly declined thereafter due to the changing racial makeup of the surrounding community. Finally, in 1968 the fourth pastor resigned because the dwindling membership could no longer pay or otherwise support a pastor.
The racial transition of Covenant began in 1969 when the church called the Rev. H. Wesley Wiley to become the first African American pastor to lead this predominantly white congregation. Although the membership had been decimated and the treasury depleted, Rev. Wiley—who continued in his position as Director of Cooperative Ministries with the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention—accepted the church’s call at a tremendous sacrifice because he saw in it an opportunity to save the church for the community. Receiving no salary and only a small travel allowance from the church, Rev. Wiley oversaw the gradual transition of Covenant from a predominantly white to a predominantly black congregation. Under his visionary leadership, the church’s membership grew once again and several milestones were achieved, including the establishment of an early childhood school and the organization of a gospel choir. Upon his retirement in 1984, Rev. Wiley was honored with the title of Pastor Emeritus.
In 1985, Rev. Dr. Dennis W. Wiley became the sixth pastor of Covenant Baptist UCC. As his father had shepherded the church during a period of racial transition, it became the son’s lot to shepherd the church during a period of socio-economic transition. And, whereas the father led the church out of the turbulent sixties, his son would lead the church into a new millennium. With a Ph.D. in systematic theology and a passion for practical ministry, Dr. Wiley has sought to bridge the gap between the church and the academy while, at the same time, seeking an effective balance between the church’s priestly and prophetic responsibilities. He has also sought to reinforce and broaden the church’s reputation as a beacon of love, hope, compassion, inclusiveness, and liberation for all who are oppressed, downtrodden, and marginalized. His numerous accomplishments include retirement of the church mortgage, a comprehensive renovation of the physical facility, the addition of an early morning worship service, the inclusion of women at every level of church leadership, and the founding of the Covenant Full Potential Development Center—a 501(c)(3) community development corporation.
“A New Paradigm for a New Day” began in 2004 when Rev. Drs. Dennis and Christine Wiley were called by the congregation to serve together as co-equal pastors of Covenant. This bold and unprecedented step made Covenant the first black Baptist congregation in the Washington metropolitan area to call a husband and wife team to serve together as pastors, sharing equal authority and equal responsibility. Dr. Christine Wiley, the seventh pastor of Covenant, compliments her husband with a wealth of gifts and talents in a number of areas, including pastoral care and counseling, Christian education, community outreach, ministerial mentoring, staff supervision, and creative worship. Together, the Wileys seek to model the effectiveness of partnership and power sharing between men and women in ministry.
Throughout the various transitions reflected above, one thing has remained constant—Covenant’s commitment to serve the community and remain on the cutting edge of progressive urban ministry in an ever changing world. This radical commitment is reflected in the vision statement recited every Sunday morning: “Affirming our African heritage, our vision is to build an inclusive body of biblical believers who continue to grow in Christ as we love, serve, and fellowship with the community and each other.”