Luther Place's first mural: Saint Francis of Assisi-- and a congregant's Dalmatian!
Earlier today, I published the first part of an interview with Reverend Karen Brau of Thomas Circle’s Luther Place church; they just dedicated a mural on the 14th street side of their building to “Saint Martin of Birmingham”, whom you may know as the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Here’s the remainder of our conversation, as promised:
Where did the idea for this mural come from– what inspired it?
I’ve been at Luther Place for two years; I came from inner-city Baltimore where I worked in neighborhood ministry…we did things with vacant lots, gardening and art. In Baltimore, we had the gift of many vacant lots. Here, that’s not the case, so we thought ‘how do we use what we have?’ Instead of putting up a big fence and having it be just our space…we explored what commonality means by sharing this art outside.
We are always reforming, we have this sense that God is calling us to new things. We looked at the space around Luther Place and we realized that some people will never come inside our church, so how could we honor the outside of it? How could we reach others? By a Sacred Commons. “Sacred” in that it’s holy ground, “Commons” in that it’s held in common by anyone who comes through. It’s also “sacred” in the sense that all people are sacred or children of God, and “common” in that we have the possibility of finding new ways to share and live in common. We need places to practice what that means.
Luther Place: Amanda Weber
Luther Place's second mural, featuring "Saint Martin of Birmingham", watches over 14th street.
Before this week, if you had asked me where “Luther Place” was, I would’ve looked at you blankly, despite the fact that I’ve lived here since 1999. Shame on me, for that. Luther Place Memorial Church sits on Thomas Circle; it’s a brick building you’ve probably passed dozens of times if you walk, bike or drive on 14th street NW. This week, the congregation dedicated a special mural featuring “Saint Martin of Birmingham”, or the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I spoke to Reverend Karen Brau yesterday about this new piece of public art, her congregation and its history in this city.
Tell me about Luther Place.
It’s a congregation that has been part of this city since the 1870s. In the 1960s, when riots happened on 14th street, we were called to open our doors and be a refuge for people at that time. Now we have a ministry for homeless women that serves over 800 women a year with shelter, job placement and help with recovery from addiction.
I’d love to know more about what Luther Place did during the riots–
The congregation made the decision to open the doors of our church, and it became a point of sanctuary for people who needed a place to stay. Luther Place also became a distribution point…other congregations from different parts of the city brought food to us that could be shared with people being affected by what was going on at that time. I think that act was a turning point; in the words of the gospel, you should love your neighbor, care for a stranger. Those words came to life in a very palpable way. And not everyone could deal with that, so that defined the congregation too.
Today was very gray, I know.
An hour ago, I spoke to The Rev. Karen Brau of Luther Place on 14th Street about a very special piece of public art, which was unveiled this week (how apposite!). “St. Martin of Birmingham” joins a mural of St. Francis at this congregation, which has been concerned with social justice and our community for several decades. More, tomorrow.