Western Presbyterian links neighborhood, GW

The Marvin Center, Kogan Plaza, Gelman Library . and Western Presbyterian Church? Student may not realize that the church tucked on outer edge of campus near the Health and Wellness Center has played an integral role in the GW community for decades.

Congregation members and charity workers alike utilize the 146-year-old church, which provides a place where both Christians and non-Christians can come together.

“I think worship, service and community building are key components in Western’s presence in the Foggy Bottom community,” Associate Pastor Laureen Smith said. “Western sees itself as a place where people can form a community.”

Smith has been a pastor at Western Presbyterian for eight years and a GW Protestant campus minister for 12 years. Many students may also know Smith because she teaches in the drama department at GW. She received her undergraduate degree in theater arts at UCLA and master’s degree in divinity at Harvard University.

Smith who was ordained in Boston, was living there when GW’s position opened.

Eleven years ago, Smith started a program called Alternative Spring Break in which students can travel around the world for community service programs. It is a trip based on service and learning that is open to people of all religions.

“My goals are stepping out of day-to-day life and having the opportunity to see how other people in other parts of the world live,” Smith said.

Sophomore Lenny Sapozhnikov is one of the student leaders for this year’s Alternative Spring Break trip to Guatemala. Last year, Sapozhnikov saw an ad in The Hatchet for the trip but applied too late. He made sure not to make the same mistake this year.

“I jumped on the opportunity and I have been involved since Thanksgiving,” he said. His main responsibility is to serve as an intermediary between the church and the students going on the trip and also between the students and the host group in Guatemala.

“I think the whole group is very excited to go to Guatemala to experience a new culture, to learn the history of the culture and to give back what we can in return,” Sapozhnikov said. The students will spend much of the trip doing community service work in their host country.

Planning a trip like Alternative Spring Break brings some difficulties for the student leaders because they can only rely on experience of Smith and the past year’s group. It is a hands-on process in which huge responsibilities are placed on the students putting the trip together.

Although Alternative Spring Break is typically financed by fundraising activities and not by Western Presbyterian, the church donated $800 to this year’s trip.

“From our perspective, Western Presbyterian has been more than generous with their time and resources,” Sapozhnikov said.

Western Presbyterian offers their building and services to many GW student groups including the Newman Center, the Muslim Student Association and the GW music and drama departments.

“Not even (do we) allow it, we welcome it,” Smith said. “It is really important for us to be part of the community.”

Last year the church hosted “The Vagina Monologues.” This year the church co-sponsored the play and hosted rehearsals. Smith produced the play this year and took on the role of faculty adviser. She worked closely with the cast and had a role in the play that was shown at the Marvin Center.

Sophomore Ellen Warner, who also acted in “The Vagina Monologues” this year, said she appreciated Western Presbyterian’s hospitality.

“It was kind of weird,” she said. “We were all sitting around the church saying ‘Vagina, vagina, vagina.'”

Western Presbyterian is making plans for Easter Sunday. There will be two services, including an informal service at the Potomac at 8:30 a.m. and a regular Easter service at 11 a.m. Following services, there will be a $5 brunch at a restaurant that has not been determined.

Information about the services and programs offered by Western Presbyterian can be found at WesternPresbyterian.org. The church is located at 2401 Virginia Ave.

As a GW professor and pastors at the historic church, Smith said she plays a major role in uniting both communities.

“(Western Presbyterian) is definitely involved and part of the college experience,” Warner said. “It seems more welcoming and less formal.”

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