Speak to my Heart
Communities of Faith and Contemporary African American Life.

Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture

Interview with Apostle H. Whitner, United House of Prayer for All People

July 21, 1995
"...we're here to serve the people.  We're servants of the people.  We're here to administer to them in whatever way that we can..."

MR. TERRY: July 21, 1995. Interview with Barbara DuBose of the United House of Prayer, in the cafeteria of the United House of Prayer headquarters, the 600 block of M Street, Northwest, Washington, D.C. 11:00 o'clock a.m. 
MR. TERRY: Could I just get you to introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about your background. 
APOSTLE WHITNER: Okay. I'm Apostle H. Whitner. I'm the pastor here at the United House of Prayer. I've been pastor here for four years. Prior to that, I was the assistant pastor for sixteen years. So I've been here as pastor or assistant pastor for about twenty years. Prior to that, I was raised up here. I was raised as a child, from the age of six years old, I was raised up in a house right exactly across the street. So, you know, I haven't fallen too far from the tree. 
MR. TERRY: As I was just saying a few minutes ago, what I'm really interested in, as far as my part in this project, is understanding the role of the black church to not just people within, say, their own denomination, or their own church , but what it might mean to everyday people on the street. Given the big problems that we have -- AIDS, and homelessness, and things of that nature. Do you have a philosophy on what this church's role should be to the larger society, or is there any doctrine? 
APOSTLE WHITNER: No, not necessarily. I mean, we -- I mean, we're here to serve the people. We're servants of the people. We're here to administer to them in whatever way that we can. And we're basically about the people, you know. We don't have a set philosophy or set plan but, as I say, we're here, you know, to administer to the needs. That's basically what we are about. 
MR. TERRY: What -- say in the last, you know, in recent history, or whatever, what have been some of the negatives that you've been confronted with? 
APOSTLE WHITNER: Okay. Well, one of the things that has happened -- well, in recent years, you know, after they had the riots here, of course, all this area was devastated, you know, and Seventh Street and the surrounding areas were burned, and housing was a necessity, and nobody could seem to get anything moving, and, of course, you know, we got it going. The House of Prayer was one of the first churches in this area to move in that direction of building housing. Low, affordable housing, you know. The area right where part of the church is located now, years ago was a street that went through there called Sixth-and-a-half Street. It only consisted of only one block. But it was, at that time, one of the roughest areas in Washington. I mean, it just had that reputation. And when the redevelopment came through, after they had the riots and everything, all of that was torn down, and the church, you know, redeveloped that area. And now we have apartments, you know, low, moderate income apartments. The ones back here were the first ones that were built, and they're called apartments. 
MR. TERRY: When were they put in? 
MR. TERRY: I'm sorry. Do you remember when they were built? 
APOSTLE WHITNER: I don't know exactly what year that was. What was that, Barbara? MS. DU BOSE (?): [inaudible]. 
APOSTLE WHITNER: Yeah. I don't remember. But, you know, we can check that for you. Then after that, we got the , and there still was no movement around here as far as housing. Then we acquired the land across the street there, and built the Paradise Apartments. And from there, we went up on Seventh Street and we built the Paradise Garden Apartments. Now, all these apartments, all of this was done with no mortgage. It was mortgage-free. The church -- we financed all of our undertakings. And this is something that the people can be proud of, you know. They can find respectability in the fact that the church was able to do this. We don't have forty and fifty-year mortgages, you know. But these are some of the things. Now, you know, I've heard in years past, coming up, there were times, like during the war, when our founder, Daddy Grace, he supported the war bond campaign. You know. And there was a time, when I was young, there was a disaster in one of the countries overseas, and he led a campaign to assemble food and clothing, you know, to send over there. So, you know, there are a lot of things that we are involved in, you know, a lot of things that people don't hear about, because that's not what it's about. Making a lot of it. Just -- even with our present bishop. He does a lot of things that, you know, there's nothing said about it, because he wants it that way. 
MR. TERRY: Are there any problems or any needs that maybe the people in this general community, in this ten-block radius? Because I've heard tell that, you know, sometimes, you know, people will come to church doors for food, or things like that. 
APOSTLE WHITNER: Okay. We don't have an overall feeding program. I think the church up the street has one, and maybe one other church. I think down at Fifth and I. They have a feeding program. But if someone comes by and they're hungry, we'll feed them. You know. We don't have a program whereby we can house people, but if, within our capabilities, we'll do what we can to assist them. We have tried, in the past, but we find that what happens, because we're located in this particular area, people tend to try to exploit you, you know, and so we have to kind of -- you know, you have to kind of look out for that sometimes, because everybody is not destitute that say that they are. And we find a lot of times, when people -- if they want money for anything, the first place they run to is to the church with a sad story. I personally have taken money out of my pocket and given people, and they swore on their mother's grave that they'd come back and bring it to me -- which I didn't expect -- and true to form, they didn't come back. You know. So it makes it bad for people who may legitimately be in need, though. You know. You just cannot just give to everybody who comes along. 
MR. TERRY: The housing on Seventh Street there. Is that something you do in cooperation with the city, or is it straight owned by the church. 
APOSTLE WHITNER: It's owned by the church. We have also a building adjacent to the church. It's not a nursing home, or anything of that nature, but it's a senior citizens home where, you know, senior citizens, they stay there at a reasonable rate, and they can feel comfortable, because a lot of times, a lot of senior citizens don't feel comfortable around a lot of young people. So when it's a case where, I think it was just one, you know, individual, they stay over there, and that's we've got a lot of senior citizens. 
MR. TERRY: Are there any needs, or anything that you can say that if they aren't a problem, or aren't a very big problem now, do you see them coming to the fore in the near future that the church may be moving to address, or -- 
APOSTLE WHITNER: Nothing that I can think of at the moment. Anything [inaudible]? MS. DU BOSE: [Inaudible] we're going to be building more facilities for our senior citizens. 
APOSTLE WHITNER: Yeah. In the future, which is in the plans. I don't know how near or how far, but there is the desire to have a nursing facility. Of course, this involves a lot of work, a lot of planning, to bring this together. So I don't know how near we are to doing this, but we are in a studying stage right now, to see just what it will take to do that. And of course, this will not just involve members of the church but, you know, others. The same thing with our apartments. You know, they're not just for the members of the church. They're for the community. 
MR. TERRY: Has the church ever been called on to deal with AIDS or [inaudible]? 
APOSTLE WHITNER: No. We do not, per se, have any AIDS -- we've had drug abuse seminars, but that's been the extent of it. 
MR. TERRY: Okay. 
APOSTLE WHITNER: We have not had any AIDS, and this is something that we do plan for the near future. You know. I've met with some people on it. So these are areas that we do hope to move into. MS. DU BOSE: [Inaudible] program also being planned, but -- 
APOSTLE WHITNER: Yeah. We also plan to -- well, as it is right now, we have a softball league. But the plans are to develop maybe a gym for the kids to form a basketball league, this type of thing. We have a couple of teams. But, you know, we want to be able to make a wide spread (?). So these are things that are in the planning stage right now. MS. DU BOSE: the marching bands. We have quite a few children from the community that participate with the marching bands. They're not members of the House of Prayer, but they do participate in the marching bands. And I think that this is one of the recreational -- 
APOSTLE WHITNER: Yeah. Are you familiar with our marching bands? 
MR. TERRY: I was [inaudible]. 
APOSTLE WHITNER: Yeah. We have two here in D.C. and they're quite active. And, like she said, there have been quite a number of young people that are not members of the church that take part with the band, and they travel, you know, to various cities, and be in parades, and things like this. 
MR. TERRY: Well, what about that? What has the community involvement been like? How have the people around here reacted, and other congregations [inaudible]? 
MR. TERRY: Are they local or [inaudible]? 
APOSTLE WHITNER: I would say about 80 percent of our people are local. About 80 percent, I would think, are within this area, within the Shaw area, you know. 
MR. TERRY: Okay. Again, I appreciate your time. What has been the big, I guess, shift in either the church's approach to, you know, ministry, or its role, say, over the last ten, fifteen years or so? Has it been on the same plan, or in the same direction, for awhile? Or has anything caused you to -- 
APOSTLE WHITNER: We've pretty much been on the same plan. You know. We're founded as an Apostolic Church, and a Pentacostal, and this is -- you know, we have not deviated from that, but, by the same token -- excuse me. [General conversation; phone call] 
APOSTLE WHITNER: We're pretty much in the same general direction, even though we try to be flexible to deal with things, as I say, I realize now, people -- their mindsets are much different than they used to be. Young people are a lot different. So you have to sort of change your approach, I guess. Not the philosophy, but the approach, in order to get through to people, through to young people. Wherein -- like, when we were growing up, young people went to church because their parents told them, you know, "You going." But now, you have to have something to attract them. So we have our youth choirs, and our bands, and you know, a lot of activity going on. I mean you come through here almost any night of the week. You'll find some type -- some form of activity. You'll find a lot of young people here. So it has to be something to attract the young people. 
MR. TERRY: Okay. All right. Thank you very much for your time, sir. 
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