Fischer, Washington Sidewalk
Unlike some cities we
know, Washington isn't much into Yuletide exuberance, except at the
Bishop's House. Located in the closest place in the District to the North
Pole – on North Portal Drive a couple of blocks west of 16th Street –
this spectacular sound-and-light show has been stopping traffic for more
than 30 years.
The display of (at
least) 10,000 lights adorns the Tudor-style minicastle and grounds
occupied by the leader of the D.C.-based United House of Prayer for All
People. The Bishop's House cheerfully mixes complicated configurations of
Christmas symbols sacred and profane: a life-size Nativity scene beside a
bower of candy canes; soaring stone angels and a Santa's sleigh guided by
Rudolph with a Christmas-light red nose. Around back, a giant snowman
occupies a hilltop overlooking Christmas trees dedicated to D.C. and each
of the 24 states with United House of Prayer congregations.
The story behind the Bishop's House is as colorful as the Christmas
lights. Although the house is now occupied by the current bishop, S.E.
Madison (his photograph hangs above the front door), the bishop who turned
on the lights in 1963 was Walter "Sweet Daddy" McCollough, the
church's charismatic leader from 1960 until his death in 1991. A
spellbinding preacher, McCollough was credited with increasing church
membership to some 3 million worldwide, constructing low-rent housing in
D.C. and half a dozen other cities and making his imprimatur all but
essential for election to office in the District.
His death occasioned a 4½-hour New Orleans-jazz funeral followed by a
five-city visitation tour and a bitter internecine dispute. Bishop
McCollough was first buried at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Suitland, Md.,
in a $700,000 memorial mausoleum built by the church to accommodate the
huge crowds that regularly showed up for the Christmas lights. A year and
a half later, after a successful appeal to the Prince George's County
government by the bishop's widow, McCollough's body was moved to a family
crypt at Fort Lincoln Cemetery in Brentwood, Md.
The United House of Prayer headquarters, known as "God's White
House," occupies a complex of buildings at Sixth and M streets N.W.
Even if you're not ready for redemption, make the pilgrimage for the
famous soul food in the cafeteria (601-A M St. N.W., 202-789-2289; open 11
a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends).
Directions: The Bishop's House is located at 1665 N.
Portal Dr. N.W. on the corner of Birch Drive, two blocks west of 16th
Street. If you can't find a parking space nearby, park on South Portal
Drive at Primrose Road and take the footpath across the small ravine.
also: The bishop's 'hood