Editor’s Note: Scotland A.M.E. Zion Church is located in Potomac, not Rockville as previously reported.
After a 2019 storm destroyed the wall of a Potomac church, its members have worked to rebuild it.
Scotland A.M.E. Zion Church in Potomac has experienced a myriad of challenges caused by various floods and storms wearing down the building due to its location prone to flooding. The church was also vandalized earlier this month, according to a news report by WJLA. In 2020, members of the church formed the 2nd Century Project, a plan aimed at rescuing the building.
The 2nd Century Project has three phases: restoration, rebuilding the original structure to serve the community for the next century; regeneration, re-grading the surrounding landscape to mitigate the risk or future flooding; and rejuvenation, constructing a new state-of-the-art Scotland A.M.E. Zion Church to allow the congregation the opportunity to grow and serve its constituents into the next century, according to the church’s website.
“The overall mission is to restore the historic building,” said Thomas ‘Chuck’ Williams, chairperson of the capital campaign committee, which oversees the 2nd Century Project. “That is a building that was put together by members of the congregation by hand with no building expertise. So, they weren’t contractors, engineers or anything. Just everyday folks that had a general idea of what needed to be done in order to build the structure that we worship in.”
The church’s project will get a head start in funding this weekend as the National Philharmonic will donate half of the proceeds from two of its three performances of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah to the church. The two performances that will donate half its proceeds will be held at the Strathmore Saturday and Sunday. A third performance will be at Capital One Hall in Tysons on Dec. 23.
Although the National Philharmonic has held performances of Messiah since 2005, according to its music director, Piotr Gajewski, this year is the first time it will donate from its Messiah performance proceeds. Gajewski said the donation was initiated because of some unearthed history of Handel.
“Some relatively recent research has uncovered that George Frideric Handel made substantial money in the transatlantic slave trade,” he said. “So, that’s obviously an unpleasant revelation as we perform his music with some frequency. The questions arose, ‘What is an appropriate reaction to learning this in the 21st century America?’”
Gajewski said they ultimately decided to “utilize some of the funds from the performance of this work which was created in some parts using funds generated through the investment in the transatlantic slave trade to assist a local community of color composed largely of descendants of enslaved people and those oppressed for decades even since the abolition of slavery through systemic racism that we have in America.”
The 2nd Century Project comes attached with a $9 million price tag, which is why Williams said the donation from the National Philharmonic couldn’t have come at a better time, as it will be the first fundraiser.
“We’re grateful for the opportunity that the National Philharmonic reached out to us,” he said. “Some of us were pinching ourselves initially, thinking, ‘Are you sure they want us?’ but apparently, the conductor came across one of our YouTube videos and when he heard us, he said ‘yes, that’s what I want.’”
The National Philharmonic will welcome the Scotland A.M.E. Zion Mass Choir and its director Michael Terry for a pre-concert Saturday and Sunday. Patrons are encouraged to attend this free performance, which will start one hour prior to the production in the venue’s lobby area.
Performances at the Strathmore, located at 5301 Tuckerman Lane in North Bethesda, will start at 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, leading with the pre-concert performances. Tickets can be purchased on the National Philharmonic website and are priced between $19 and $99 with children admitted for free.
Gajewski said he hopes to not only continue the donations to local Black communities but also to start a national trend.
“There has to be performing works of Handel whose music may not have been created at all if not for his benefitting from investing in the transatlantic slave trade,” he said. “It seems that that demands some kind of equity response presently. Once we learned this history, this is our response and going forward, I can’t imagine performing the music of Handel without continuing to appropriate some portions of revenue to communities of color.”
“I hope it gets to the point where it will be literally impossible to perform Handel without acknowledging the history and without using some revenues from Handel’s works towards helping communities of color in America and elsewhere, Gajewski said.”