The Old Man of Anacostia

East of the River Traditions


There are nearly 200 churches east of the river.  Collectively they could be a powerful force in the community, but it is extremely difficult to get the pastors together or have them send representatives to the monthly breakfast meetings. 


On December 17th the Wards 7 & 8 Faith and Clergy Leaders 2nd Annual Holiday Prayer Breakfast was held in the Panorama Room, the fellowship hall of the historic Our Lady of Perpetual Help Roman Catholic Church (OLPH).  It is scripturally written that “man shall not live on bread alone” and the prayer breakfast did not disappoint.  In addition to a delicious breakfast, over 200 guests were spiritually fed a course of inspirational messages, music, song and, of course, soaring prayers.  The guests were led in prayer by clergy and faith leaders who called on God to guide and bless our community as we grapple with the issues of the environment, education, economics, violence, drugs and unity of purpose.  The price of admission was right.  It was free.  The prayer breakfast was sponsored by the Anacostia Coordinating Council (ACC), East of the River Clergy Police Community Partnership (ERCPCP), East River Family Strengthening Collaborative (ERFSC), Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative (FSFSC), OLPH and United Healthcare.

Philip Pannell at the registration table with Joyce Milton and Irwin Royster.

For the second year, the Reverend Karen Curry, first lady of the Pennsylvania Baptist Church, served as the vivacious emcee and kept the program moving seamlessly.  The Holy Trinity United Baptist Church provided a musical ensemble. The Potomac River Young Marines paraded their handmade posters while the guests prayed for the faith community to be good stewards of the environment. And although it was a religious event, there were hat tips to the secular with greetings by Reverend Thomas Bowen, the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Religious Affairs; Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White, and Councilmember Vincent Gray’s chief of staff Sheila Bunn.

The keynote speaker Reverend Dr. Anika Wilson-Brown, senior pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church and chair of the Mayor’s Interfaith Council, delivered a powerful message that clergy and faith leaders need to take care of themselves and attend to their needs.  After all, what happens to the sheep if the shepherd is incapacitated?  Her points were crystal clear and sensible: sometimes “a preacher needs a pastor.”

For the closing prayer, the guests received a special treat.  It was given by His Eminence Wilton Cardinal Gregory, the Archbishop of Washington, DC and the first African American cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church.  He said he had come to the breakfast after earlier sending birthday wishes to Pope Francis.   Cardinal Gregory thanked the faith leaders for all their good works east of river. After the breakfast he was surrounded by the guests who wanted to take selfies with him.

The prayer breakfast can be viewed on YouTube at

Seven years ago, the ACC, ERCPCP and FSFSC organized the monthly Ward 8 faith leaders breakfast meetings.  The meetings were held in different churches until the COVID pandemic made them virtual.  Those meetings are held the second Saturday of each month, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.  Reverend Wanda Thompson, the Ambassador Baptist Church pastor, and Reverend Donald Isaac, Sr., Southeast Tabernacle Baptist Church pastor are the co-conveners.

Denise Rolark Barnes and Cardinal Wilton Gregory.

In 2019 monthly faith leaders’ breakfasts were organized by the ERFSC, ACC and ERCPCP.  They are held the first Saturday of each month, 9:30 a.m to 11;30 a.m. and are virtual until further notice.  They are convened by Reverend Karen Curry and Irwin Royster, the ERFSC director of community engagement and partnerships.

During the COVID pandemic, the organizers of the Wards 7 and 8 breakfast meetings established joint quarterly meetings.  These quarterly meetings were the genesis for the prayer breakfasts.  In addition to the holiday prayer breakfasts, this year the inaugural Juneteenth prayer breakfast was organized with the hope that it will become an annual tradition.  All the prayer breakfasts have been and are planned to be in the Panorama Room.  Father Michael Thompson, the OLPH pastor, has been an extraordinary gracious and generous host.

There are nearly 200 churches east of the river.  Collectively they could be a powerful force in the community, but it is extremely difficult to get the pastors together or have them send representatives to the monthly breakfast meetings.  If the churches were constantly leading marches against the violence, maybe there would be fewer carjackings and murders.  Yes, prayer is good and always in season.  But we also need the churches to come together and stay together to implement a unified action agenda for the community.  Then, we can all say Amen.

Long-time Ward 8 community activist Philip Pannell can be contacted at

Pannell is the Executive Director of the Anacostia Coordinating Council. Help Make Wards 7 & 8 Great! Become a Member of the Anacostia Coordinating Council: Visit