- The Washington Times - Monday, March 25, 2002

Runners in the first D.C. Marathon vied for elbow room with early morning churchgoers attending Palm Sunday services on the District's clogged and closed streets yesterday.
The marathon, which attracted about 8,000 runners and thousands of spectators, began at Memorial Bridge and concluded at Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue at 14th Street NW.
Along the way, the marathon inconvenienced some churchgoers, as members of the clergy feared would happen on one of their busiest Sundays of the year.
Members of the Church of Pilgrims in Dupont Circle said the marathon disrupted Sunday School classes. Services for parishioners at Mount Olivet in Northwest started 20 minutes late after church members had trouble finding parking and were forbidden to double park as usual.
Religious liaisons tried to work with individual churches to help move runners and spectators through neighborhoods while residents headed to services.
Some churches embraced the race.
Members of Church of the Epiphany, at 13th and G streets Northwest, came down to cheer on the runners and invite them to services.
At the 19-mile marker, the choir from Our Lady of Victory serenaded athletes as they ran by.
The D.C. Marathon had been in the works for a year, and organizers didn't realize they were colliding with a holy day. They chose the date because it fell between the Los Angeles Marathon on March 3 and the Boston Marathon on April 15.
Organizers say they are hoping the race will showcase the city's potential to host the 2012 Olympics.
In an effort to avoid traffic snarls caused by closed streets and traffic from the marathon, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams had suggested that downtown churches hold Palm Sunday worship at the Washington Convention Center.
But D.C. congregations wanted to hold services in their own houses of worship.
"We like to be in our own place on Palm Sunday, one of the holiest days," said pastor Jim Somerville of First Baptist Church in the District.
To meet church concerns, marathon organizers made maps of the race route for worshippers and switched the route from 16th Street, the address of many churches, to 13th Street. But any more adjustments, they said, would have taken a month for official assessments of pavement strength, a safety requirement for large marathons.
The route change worked out fine for four churches on 16th Street that joined in their inaugural Palm Sunday procession. Those walking in the Palm procession weren't interrupted by runners either.
About 100 members of First Baptist Church of the City of Washington, D.C.; Universalist National Memorial Church; Church of the Holy City National Swedenborgian Church; and the Pavilion of God bore palms and sung hymns as they marched south along 16th Street. Along the way, members left the procession to go to their churches for services.
"It was a reminder of what kind of unity is possible when people put their faith in Christ," said Mr. Somerville. "Next year, we'll have twice as many [processioners] and after that, thousands."
Sherise Lindsay, 22, a parishioner at First Baptist, called the procession a "wonderful experience."
"It was different people of different churches walking through an area that is your home and proclaiming yourself a Christian," she said. "We got a good reception smiles."
To avoid future conflicts between religious and civic events, Mr. Williams formed a 60-clergy advisory board. He said the city will not hold its marathon on Palm Sunday again.
This story is based in part on wire service reports.


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