St. Columba's Episcopal Church

The Water Ministry

Cooking great quantities of meat for guests of the Water Ministry.
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When the Water Ministry, a daytime hospitality program, opened its doors in the fall of 1990, it was in direct response to the needs of some of St. Columba’s immediate neighbors: homeless people visible daily by the Tenleytown Metro station and the Sears (now Best Buy) on the corner of Albemarle Street and Wisconsin Avenue. Our original constituency was the homeless population of northwest Washington, specifically Ward 3. Today, we welcome guests from throughout the Washington metropolitan area.

The program, now over a quarter-century old, is open four days a week from early September to early June and provides hospitality to the needy in the form of a hot lunch, shower and laundry facilities and a place to relax and talk. The opportunity to take a shower and do laundry is particularly precious to our guests, as the Water Ministry is one of only a small number of such programs west of Rock Creek Park. We also host two parties each year, one at Christmas and one at the end of the program year in early June.

We typically receive 30 to 40 guests each day. In 2014-2015, that meant about 4,800 visits by about 600 individuals, 4,800 meals, 1,200 showers and over 300 laundry washes.

Our guests are over 90 percent male, roughly 60 percent black, 30 percent Hispanic and 10 percent white, and are aged from 25 to 55. They are living as individuals, rather than in families, though many of them have children and some maintain frequent contact with their children. They are largely the “chronically homeless.” Many live permanently on the street or in shelters and suffer from substance addictions and/or mental illness. Some are chronically ill with HIV/AIDS, diabetes or a physical disability. Many—but not all—are poorly educated. Many have served time in jail or prison.

A sizeable minority of our guests receives disability checks, which help them secure more permanent housing. Others have secured transitional and more permanent accommodations from agencies offering such assistance. (We work closely with Friendship Place, a leading Washington agency helping homeless people to rebuild their lives.) Guests who secure permanent housing or who are among the working poor use Water Ministry services to help sustain their independent living.
We offer these services in a dedicated space on the second floor of St. Columba’s, at the entrance off Butterworth Place. The welcoming atmosphere in which we offer our services recognizes the dignity and humanity of our guests and underscores that our ministry is one of hospitality. While they are with us, we require that our guests follow reasonable rules of behavior, detailed in a Covenant for Guests, which we ask each person to sign. However, it is not our main objective to change their behavior in the outside world.

It is the goal of the Water Ministry to serve as a witness to God’s love by providing hospitality to all who come to our door. We seek to provide our guests with a place where they are treated in a welcoming, respectful way and can enjoy the dignity of cleanliness and sharing a healthy meal. Equally important, the Water Ministry is an avenue for St. Columba’s parishioners to offer their time, talents and resources in service to the greater Washington community. This service is essential to St. Columba’s identity as a faith community. While faith is the motivation for offering the services of the Water Ministry, we do not require any profession of faith or participation in St. Columba’s religious programs on the part of our guests. Water Ministry volunteers hail from St. Columba’s parish and beyond, including other faiths.

The Water Ministry is supported by St. Columba’s congregation and grants from local foundations.

2016 Water Ministry Handbook

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Photo: Joshua Hutcheson

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