In some ways, David Snyder and Rev. Billy Kluttz couldn’t be any more different.
Mr. Snyder is a lay member of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church congregation, while Rev. Kluttz is ordained. Mr. Snyder has been a member for more than 30 years; Rev. Kluttz, the minister for social life and connection, arrived for his new assignment less than two months ago.
But both had the same purpose Saturday afternoon: volunteering to help “Black Lives Matter” protesters in nearby Lafayette Square and other parts of the District.
The historic church was one of several religious organizations to open its doors to demonstrators in the District this weekend, offering restrooms, water and shelter from the hot sun, and in some cases snacks and charging stations for cell phones, all for free.
New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, located just two blocks from the White House, has hosted President Abraham Lincoln for worship and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for a speech about the Vietnam War.
“We’ve always played a role in American history when the crunch time came,” Mr. Snyder said, “and now is no different.”
Rev. Kluttz said the church’s session, its body of elders, voted last Monday to open up for what it called “protest hospitality.” The doors have been open every day since Wednesday and will be open again Sunday through 9 p.m.
The church has not yet been able to move from livestreamed services back to traditional in-person services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so volunteers from its ministry and congregation were glad to be able to fulfill a new mission for the time being.
“Our job is to offer peace to people who are working for peace and justice, and if we can support that in a small way, that’s what we want to do,” Rev. Kluttz said.
Other churches in the District that also opened up to protesters this weekend included the Foundry United Methodist Church, the Luther Place Memorial Church and the Universalist National Memorial Church, all in Northwest Washington. It wasn’t just churches: The lobbies of theaters like the Shakespeare Theatre Company and music venues like the 9:30 Club offered similar assistance Saturday.
In another part of the city, the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) Quaker Welcome Center arranged a table outside its headquarters in Northeast Washington. Restrooms and a phone charging station were open for protesters to use, and bottled water and snacks were made available.
FCNL “often just says, from our faith, that we have to love thy neighbor, no exceptions,” said Ashley Wilson, an advocacy manager at FCNL, which describes itself as “a Quaker lobby in the public interest.”
“That is the strong philosophy behind why we’re doing this this weekend,” Ms. Wilson said.
Ms. Wilson said the volunteers there didn’t know how many demonstrators to expect. The center is located near the Dirksen Senate Office Building, where one march began Saturday, making it possibly the only open public restroom in the area.
The center will be open to protesters again Sunday, from 12 to 6 p.m.
Religious groups did more than help protesters on the sidelines. Many marchers at Saturday’s demonstrations identified themselves by their faith community, from Sikhs to Mormons.
Rachel Schwartz, a D.C. resident originally from Atlanta, was one of a cluster of local Mormons spotted in the middle of a march on Saturday. She carried a sign that read “Mormons Demanding Justice” and led those around her in a chant of, “White silence is violence.”
“I want justice for people whose lives — for black lives which were taken, unjustly so,” Ms. Schwartz said. “The Mormon community, we know what persecution is like. We’ve lived it, we’ve experienced it. It’s not OK. We need to act. We got away with it because we have white skin.”
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