Lanie Rivera

The red doors of the historic Church of the Epiphany on G Street NW open wide, welcoming people of many faiths and walks of life.

Workers from nearby offices flock to lunchtime concerts in the sanctuary. Members of a local Muslim society meet on weekdays at Epiphany to pray. And on Sundays, Episcopal services draw worshippers from throughout the area, as they have since before the Civil War.

The old church near Metro Center has also found some innovative ways to minister to its poor and homeless neighbors in downtown Washington. The congregation rents office space in its building to several nonprofit organizations that serve the homeless, including Street Sense.

And every Sunday morning at 7 am a vibrant ministry known as Gospel Art! attracts homeless and formerly homeless men and women with a unique blend of offerings: a hot breakfast, Bible study, worship and a celebration of creativity.

Participants say they have found friendship and healing through Gospel Art!
“Everyone’s got their own way of expressing themselves,” said David Godecki, who has been coming on Sunday mornings for six years.

The sessions provide a welcome break from life at Adams Shelter and on the streets, he says.
“I come here for companionship [and] community,” Godecki said. “It’s a safe place.”
Others say they find peace working with the art supplies, including paint, pencils and clay.

A military veteran named Wayne says he has attended the Gospel Art! program for the past six months. Creating art has helped ease the burdens of post traumatic stress disorder, he says.

“It’s a therapeutic environment,” he says.

Gospel Art! sells cards with images of the artists’ artwork and some artists donate their artwork to the church to be sold; all profits go to supporting the Sunday morning breakfasts, which usually feed 150-200 people. (For more information see www.epiphanygospelart.weebly.com.)

“It’s the homeless feeding the homeless,” says Gospel Art! co-facilitator Marge McNaughton with pride. “The artists don’t keep any of the money.”

McNaughton, an Epiphany parishioner and retired associate dean at the Virginia Theological Seminary, came up with the idea for the program in a conversation with another parishioner, artist and theological student Billie Abrahamson. Then McNaughton, Abrahamson and a third colleague, Lisa Kimball, a professor at Virginia Theological Seminary, got busy and applied for grants. Funding from the Evangelical Education Society of the Episcopal Church helped get the program started in 2006. Now Gospel Art! is supported by Epiphany and proceeds from the sale of artwork.

These days, Kimball serves as co-facilitator of the program with McNaughton. But the whole thing has evolved into a community effort, with participants also deeply involved.

“Everyone takes responsibility for the program,” McNaughton says, “It’s not like the leaders come in and take over everything. It’s a team effort. When we make decisions … it’s a part of the gospel artists’ mission that we figure things out together.”