- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2002

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams' suggestion that downtown churches hold Palm Sunday worship at the Washington Convention Center to avoid traffic snarls during the D.C. Marathon has not calmed complaints about a footrace soiling a sacred day.
"We are going to the make the best out of a poor situation," said Monsignor Ronald Jamison, who expects 5,000 worshipers at St. Matthew's Cathedral on the March 24 morning when the 26-mile race passes nearby. "We have people coming from north, east, south and west."
No D.C. clergy have taken up the mayor's idea of holding a joint ecumenical service, recommended because much of the city will be cordoned off for the District's first marathon. The runners begin at 7:30 a.m.
Palm Sunday, which opens Easter week, draws some of the highest church attendance all year. A joint service somewhere else is impossible, the clergy said.
"We all go to ecumenical services, but on a day like Palm Sunday we all worship in our own houses," said the Rev. John Mack at First Congregational Church at 10th and G streets NW. "From Orthodox to Baptist and Catholic, we celebrate the high holy days with very distinct traditions."
For the D.C. government, it's all about money.
The mayor's suggestion, which was presented through his assistant for religious affairs, the Rev. Carlton Pressley, was the latest effort to avoid a logistical problem on marathon day, which has been a year in the making.
The date was chosen as the only Sunday that fell between the Los Angeles and Boston marathons on March 3 and April 15. The race hopes to draw runners and business to the District and showcase its potential for the 2012 Olympics. Organizers hope to attract 20,000 runners.
A year ago, organizers did not notice the head-on collision with a holy day, Mr. Pressley said. "Some of the churches will feel the impact, and the mayor's office is working hard to make every accommodation," he said. To avoid future conflicts between the District's religious and civic events, he said, the mayor will form a 60-clergy advisory board at an interfaith service he will attend Feb. 24.
"The next time, we want to have clergy at the table," said Mr. Pressley, an associate Baptist pastor who recently joined the mayor's office. "We feel for the [churches] inconvenience. But the clergy also know that this will bring jobs to the District after a very hard period for tourism and hotels."
To meet church concerns, marathon organizers already switched the route from 16th Street, the address of many churches, to 13th Street. But any more adjustments, they said, would take a month for official assessments of pavement strength, a safety requirement for large marathons.
The marathon is being organized by H2O Entertainment Group Inc., a special events company in Arlington.
Angela Casey, spokeswoman for the marathon, said the sponsors have begun to print maps for downtown churches so worshippers will know where to park and string lines of yellow tape.
"One of the many things we're doing with the churches is providing 'church ambassadors' [as] volunteers to facilitate getting to and from services," Ms. Casey said. She said enthusiasm for the event has created a large volunteer pool.
"A lot of people in Washington are pretty excited about a marathon coming in."
Organizers noted the marathon in Rome also falls on Palm Sunday this year.
The D.C. marathon begins at Memorial Bridge and concludes at Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue at 14th Street NW. With registration frees of $75 and $85, promoters will garner about $1.5 million if the 20,000-runner goal is reached. The cutoff date for registration is Feb. 24.
The Easter week for 2002 falls earlier in spring than usual, and some clergy said that may have led to the miscalculation by marathon organizer.
"This race is shutting down the whole city," said the Rev. Lane Davenport, whose Ascension and St. Agnes Episcopal Church at Massachusetts Ave. and 12th Street is squeezed up against a segment of the course.
"We're at mile 18 or 19," he said. "If we move the service to the afternoon, we'll get half the people. If we stay in the morning, I don't know who will come."
At Asbury United Methodist Church, located at K and 11 streets, worshipers will accommodate the runners, said the Rev. Eugene Matthews. "We have worship at 8 and 11 a.m. I'm hoping we can come to some accommodation. I'm not too happy that a marathon dictates how we worship."


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