Alfred Street congregation gave to help people across the country during the pandemic.
ALEXANDRIA- When Alfred Street Baptist Church’s congregation saw a $1 million surplus in donations, they could’ve easily stored the money. But the members took a leap of faith, donating every last cent to non-profits across the country. The church gave to more than 60 churches, schools, hospitals and other programs, offering help while people were struggling.
In April, the congregation formed “Tithe the Tithe” ,or T3 for short, an initiative to help the people around them. Alfred Street’s pastor, Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley, got the idea during a sabbatical. When the pandemic hit Virginia, the reverend worried about the fate of the church. In this time of crisis, he didn’t expect the congregation to give as much as they used to. But, much to Wesley’s surprise, they still did.
In fact, donations went up. Way up. According to Rev. Marcia Norfleet, assistant to the pastor for missions, donations jumped 20% to 30%. Now, the church had to decide what to do with the extra money.
“[Pastor Wesley] was praying about what we, as a church should do. It was then that he heard the Lord say ‘give it away”” said Norfleet. “So he said that with this tithe, which is 10% of what people were giving, we were going to tithe on that tithe.”
On Easter Sunday, Wesley announced during a service that Alfred Street would be giving away $1,079,287 to various non-profits.
“I believe that the Black church has the opportunity and the obligation to reach into segments of our community that are always overlooked by government,” Wesley said during the Easter sermon. “We’re taking 10 percent of everything that is raised every week and donating it to organizations that are on the front lines fighting and dealing with the coronavirus.”
How COVID changed the church
Alfred Street Baptist Church is one of the oldest Black churches in the nation. Formed in 1803, the church was unique at the time, as it welcomed an integrated membership. In 1806, after conjoining with the Colored Baptist Society, it became the first Black church north of Richmond. Since then, the church has played an active role in the Northern Virginia community with nearly 10,000 members.
Usually, the church hosts worship services with hundreds of people. Weddings, funerals, they all happen inside that building at 301 S. Alfred Street in Alexandria. They put together back-to-school drives and other community-involved projects. And with these events, Norfleet never had a shortage of volunteers. Sometimes, she’d have see more than 400 people eager to help. Unfortunately, when COVID-19 hit, the place of worship had to close its doors.
“Alfred Street is a very hands-on, community oriented church. We help the community. We feed the homeless communities in DC and Alexandria,” said Norfleet. “But because of COVID, we couldn’t put our membership at risk.”
In June, Gov. Ralph Northam allowed certain places of worship to reopen with strict rules in place. In order to protect their congregation, ASBC followed suit. Now, they host services virtually and over the phone. But, it’s not the same as being in the same room as someone.
“You can really feel it when you have to do a funeral,” said Norfleet. “We had to put in certain guidelines. Not too many people can be in the building. It’s been difficult not to console those who are grieving in a usual manner. Not being able to hug or touch them has been hard.”
It was a similar challenge when it came to helping others.
“We can’t necessarily physically help like we usually do,” said Norfleet. “But we can try finding others ways to comfort.”
Lending a helping hand
In a COVID-19 world, the church couldn’t help in the hands-on way they usually would. But that didn’t stop the congregation from aiding in other ways. And now, people needed their help more than ever.
“So many people were hurting. So many people were laid off or furloughed. Some businesses went into the ground.” said Norfleet. The Alfred Street congregation knew that they had to do something. This is where T3 came into play.
With the Tithe for Tithe initiative, the church helped 69 non-profits across the country. They partnered with corporations like Microsoft and Apple to provide laptops and other technology to students in local schools. One of those schools was Simon Elementary in nearby Washington D.C. The T3 project provided $130,000 so all 267 students could have a Microsoft laptop.
“In DC, there was such a big economic and technological divide that these students were still getting paper packets every week for school,” said Norfleet. “A lot of the kids didn’t have enough technology at home to complete their education online.”
The church also helped ALIVE!, a local family assistance program. They provide several services for struggling families like rent relief and food delivery. Since the pandemic began, ALIVE! has seen their demand for food increase fivefold. On an average month, they’d usually distribute 30,000 to 40,000 pounds of food. Last month, they gave out 175,000 pounds. The Alfred Street congregation was one of the first groups to reach out and ask how they could help.
“Early in COVID, Alfred Street called us and said that they were doing the Tithe to Tithe for us,” said Jennifer Ayers, executive director for ALIVE!
Norfleet said that making these calls is her favorite part of the job.
“I was the lucky one who got to deliver the good news,” she said. “I looked forward to sending those calls and writing those emails because I got to hear the reactions of these CEOs and organization directors. It was almost always shock.”
Taking a leap of faith
Choosing to donate the money wasn’t an easy decision. Some of the staff was afraid Alfred Street might need it in the future. But the church moved forward in faith.
“There is a tendency to want to hold on to a surplus. Because you don’t know if you’re going to need it,” Norfleet said.
After the reverend announced the church’s plans to donate the money on Easter Sunday, the membership’s response was inspiring. They donated even more.
The initiative has paid off in more ways than one. Thanks to the program, the church has learned about and made connections with dozens of new organizations from Connecticut all the way to Texas.
“[Before], we didn’t really partner with so many associations. This has actually allowed us to research other resources for our membership and other people that come to us in need,” said Norfleet. “And it allowed us to get to know other associations and what they do. There are so many organizations that are doing great things here and elsewhere.”
If you would like to learn more about the Tithe the Tithe Initiative, visit the church’s website. Alfred Street Baptist Church is still seeking opportunities to fund organizations in need under the Tithe-the-Tithe Initiative. Requests for funding should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arianna Coghill is a content producer with the Dogwood. You can reach her at email@example.com.