Dismal Parting For Storied D.C. Church And Its First Black Pastor

Source: Hamil R. Harris and Michelle Boorstein / The Washington Post

There had been three years of tension, heated meetings and secret letters of complaint from congregants with questions: Why was their new pastor making changes to their church? Why did he hire a new musician? Could he, please, discourage new members from clapping during services?Conflict was not new at First Baptist Church, a storied, 210-year-old Dupont Circle congregation that has churned through nine pastors in the past four decades. There was even a stir in the 1970s over the politics and policies of a Sunday school teacher named Jimmy Carter.

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But members say the drama that ended a few weeks ago with a “separation agreement” between First Baptist — a prominent, mostly white church — and its first black pastor was particularly troubling.

The agreement, which included a severance payment of $315,000, concluded the tenure of the Rev. Jeffrey Haggray, whose hiring had been viewed by many as a hopeful sign in a city grappling with shifting demographics, political polarization and the departure of many churches for the suburbs.

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