Posts Tagged ‘Jason Todd Reynolds’

National City Christian Church

National City Christian Church is located on 5 Thomas Circle (MAP), in northwest D.C.’s Logan Circle neighborhood.  It is the national church of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ, often abbreviated simply as the “Disciples of Christ” or “Christian Church”), a mainline Protestant Christian denomination.  And during today’s lunchtime bike ride I visited the church.

The church’s neoclassical building was designed by John Russell Pope and completed in 1930.  It has a “monumental character” typical of Pope’s style and seen in his other works, such as The Thomas Jefferson MemorialThe U.S. National Archives and Records Administration building and the West Building of The National Gallery of Art.  The church’s design was partly influenced by British architect James Gibbs’ Saint Martin-in-the-Fields church, built at Trafalgar Square in London in the early 18th century.   The National City Christian Church building, which is constructed of Indiana limestone, is a contributing property to the Greater 14th Street Historic District, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

The church building also features stained glass windows commemorating the two presidents thus far associated with the church.  The first is President James A. Garfield, who  preached there, and whose family pew is still displayed adjacent to the sanctuary. The other is President Lyndon B. Johnson, who along with First Lady Lady Bird Johnson worshiped there and mingled regularly with other parishioners in Fellowship Hall after services.

However, churches are more than the buildings in which they worship.  The congregation that eventually became the National City Christian Church was organized in 1843.  James Turner Barclay, a physician and pioneering Stone-Campbell Movement missionary, helped to organize the congregation.  In the 1950s and 1960s, the church had a congregation of some 800 regular Sunday worshipers.  However, in 2004, the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Alvin O. Jackson, resigned following a heated acrimonious dispute. The ouster of Jackson followed the resignation or firings of some two dozen church staffers, and the development of a deep intra-congregational dispute.  Attendance declined over time; in 2011, Sunday attendance was about 125, with mostly older congregants.

The church has experienced other recent troubles as well.  It’s chief financial officer, Jason Todd Reynolds, was discovered to have embezzled $850,000 in church funds from 2003 to 2008.  In 2011, Reynolds was convicted of 12 fraud-related charges, and sentenced to eight years in prison.  The losses from Reynolds’ embezzlement scheme caused serious damage to the church’s financial health.  It’s financial health was further exacerbated as a result of the magnitude 5.8 Virginia earthquake on August 23, 2011, which caused tens of thousands of dollars in structural damage to the church building.

Revitalization of the greater 14th Street neighborhood, thriving with an influx of new residents, hasn’t been significantly reflected in the church’s once-large congregation.  The rapidly aging denomination, which has experienced a membership crash of its own, no longer makes membership and attendance figures for individual congregations freely available. But the congregation’s recently released annual report is telling.

It’s financial troubles and declining congregation continued, and in 2017 National City was forced to sell the Campbell Building, a wing of the building that housed the educational  facilities of the church.  According to Church Moderator Jane Campbell, the building was “only partially used, had major maintenance issues, and would have cost millions to bring into usable condition – and then we would have had to find tenants as the activities of National City itself no longer fill the building.”

Currently the under-utilized building and diminished congregation continues to operate.  However, whether the National City Christian Church can reverse the overall decline it has experienced in the last half century remains to be seen.   Only time will tell.