Pastor Vincent E. Allen
Our spotlight for the month of August 2012 is Rev. Vincent E. Allen, Pastor of Upper Room Baptist Church, located in Washington, DC. Rev. Vincent Allen is the son of the late Rev. Dr. Willie B. Allen, Sr., a well-respected and prominent leader who was the church’s founder and first pastor, serving from 1957 to 1994. Upper Room Baptist Church has a rich ministerial history in both its community and in this city. We will talk with Pastor Allen about the church’s history and about the ministries and programs in which he and his congregation are currently involved.
Destiny – Pride: Good morning, Pastor Allen.
Pastor Allen: Good morning to you, Brother Rufus!
Destiny – Pride: Destiny Pride is delighted that you have accepted my invitation to be our Spotlight of the Month for August 2012. Upper Room Baptist Church has been a part of our city’s history for some fifty-plus years. We are going to delve into that rich history, but first of all we want to learn about your personal history, so please do the honors of telling our visitors about yourself, starting from birth. As I mentioned earlier, you are the son of the late Dr. Willie B. Allen, but please let our visitors know your mother’s name, and then tell us about your childhood and upbringing.
Pastor Allen: Well, I want to thank you first, Brother Rufus, for this honor that you have given through your organization and ministry. I was born in Richmond, Virginia, in a little house on 1802 Little Page Street. The street is still there, but the house is long gone. The city of Richmond has put a housing development there since the time of my birth.
My father often said that I called him to ministry in 1953, when I was born. Immediately, he penetrated the church life of Anacostia – which is now Ward 8 – and was called to the pastorate of Bethlehem Baptist Church, which is pastored by Pastor James Coates now and has been for some 50-some odd years. My father took that little congregation and built the edifice that is there now. In 1957 he left and, through a storefront, organized the Upper Room Baptist Church. That’s where Upper Room got its birth. Not only there, but he connected with my uncle [Rev. Andrew James Allen], who was called by many the “Big Allen.” Big Allen pastored First Baptist of Deanwood for several years. He helped my father to get on his feet, as well as the District of Columbia Baptist Convention, which is the Convention of our white brothers and sisters. We were the second [African American] congregation to join – the other one being Shiloh Baptist Church at 9th and P Streets, pastored then by Dr. Earl Harrison.
Destiny – Pride: Okay. Let’s just stop there. First tell us about your childhood, because I know that you were called into the ministry early on. So when did you move from Richmond, and how was your life in Richmond?
Pastor Allen: Well I didn’t spend that much time in Richmond. I moved with my father to Washington [DC], so even though I was born in Richmond, my childhood primarily was in Washington. I went to LaSalle and Stanton Elementary Schools and then we moved to the Riggs Park area on that corner – 301 Oneida Street. I went to Backus Junior High School. What opened me up at Backus was when we had a talent show. Because of my singing and musical abilities, they had me in the show.
Destiny – Pride: How old were you then?
Pastor Allen: I was somewhere around 12 or 13 years old – somewhere in there – and I sang and played more than the greatest love the world has known! That gave me access to immediate prosperity.
Destiny – Pride: When you said you “played it,” do you mean an instrument?
Pastor Allen: The piano.
Destiny – Pride: Oh, okay.
Pastor Allen: I played the piano and I sang. I was Ray Charles. I had a green jacket and pants, a bow tie, and a Baby Grand piano.
Destiny – Pride: What about your mother?
Pastor Allen: Well, my mother is Thelma Lucky. I married her and her current husband. My parents separated and divorced. My father remarried the renown Dr. Anita Allen, who was very high on the ladder in terms of HEW [Highly Educated Women] at black colleges throughout the country. She was the one who cracked the whole problem of segregation in the school system in the District of Columbia.
Destiny – Pride: At one time she was the President of the Board of the DC school system, right?
Pastor Allen: Right. She, Marion Barry and James Coates – that whole network; even the grandmother of the City Council, Councilmember Hilda Mason. She was my counselor when I was at LaSalle, and then she went into politics. She would often come to hear me preach.
At an early age, I would copy my father’s sermons when he preached and I would write my own sermons. My brother and I, during our childhood years, would go down in the basement and have church.
Destiny – Pride: How old were you then?
Pastor Allen: I was seven or eight.
Destiny – Pride: And that’s the picture where you’re holding the bible?
Pastor Allen: Yes. That church was owned by the Convention, and when the whites moved out of this community, they left the church vacant. The name of the church was Christ Baptist Church.
Destiny – Pride: And where was that?
Pastor Allen: Right here on Minnesota Avenue. Keep in mind that Minnesota Avenue was Route 1, connecting New York to the south. It’s a dangerous and interesting road still, in terms of the amount of traffic that flows up and down the street.
Destiny – Pride: Do you have any siblings?
Pastor Allen: I have two brothers and a sister.
Destiny – Pride: What are their names?
Pastor Allen: William is my older brother and my other brother is Rev. Willie B. Jr. My sister is Dr. Verbena.
Destiny – Pride: Are you married and do you have any children?
Pastor Allen: I have three children who are grown – Harold, Ed and Christina. They’re all doing well, making names for themselves. I’m real proud of them. I have ten grandchildren that are moving up the ladder as well. I’m kind of feeling like an old man! We call my wife “Cookie,” but her real name is Alberta Curry Allen. We all grew up together, but went different ways and then came back in the circle and got married. Her mother and father were very instrumental in my childhood, especially her mother, now my mother-in-law, in that she fed several thousand people out of her beauty shop right there on 9th Street, for 50 years. Her name is Lil Curry and she’s gotten recognition from numerous influential people, including a number of Congress Members. She’s sick now, bless her heart! My mother is 94 years old, so God has blessed our family in a great way.
Destiny – Pride: Describe your higher education experience. I do know that you went to Howard University [University].
Pastor Allen: Yes, I went to Howard’s School of Divinity. My major was philosophy. I just wanted to search for information and knowledge so that I could be a leader with knowledge to pass on to the people that I served. I didn’t finish my MD; I still have a few hours to do to complete my MD. Along the way I discovered a great mentor – the Honorable Apostle Dr. Anthony Mays, who owns WPGR Radio Worldwide and is president of Break Through Bible College, which is connected with universities all over the country.
Destiny – Pride: Because you are a Baptist Minister, I’m pretty sure that you are of the Christian faith. Tell us about your faith and the role it has played in your life and work.
Pastor Allen: My faith has always been to look to Christ. I will confess, though, that I got turned off with the church because I didn’t see the church being relevant to social issues. It seemed that the church took a drift to just spiritual kinds of things and not helping people economically, or with food, shelter and clothing. I mean, when a person comes to the church for help, and the church says “All I can do is pray for you,” I think that’s a sad commentary on that church. I never wanted Upper Room to be like that and my father didn’t lead Upper Room that way. But whatever people needed, he attempted to provide – even for people that he didn’t know. He was like a mother, father, psychiatrist, doctor, or whatever. That’s the same kind of approach that I took to it. (Click here for 1979 Washington Post article on Pastor Allen’s ministry style)
Destiny – Pride: As you think back over your life, who would you name as individuals who have made the greatest impact on you and your life choices?
Pastor Allen: Well, I would say two people. One is someone I was talking to just last night [July 22] – Dr. Fred West, who is an outstanding psychiatrist and medical doctor. He had his own practice.
Destiny – Pride: In the city?
Pastor Allen: Yes. West Rehabilitation. He served with E.Y. Williams, who is Chairman of Psychiatry at Howard [University]. They say that he is the father of Psychiatry in this part of the country, but I call him “Uncle Fred.” He was a dynamic doctor because he helped people regardless of their income and he spent hours with them. He spent hours with me. He likes history, so most of his conversations with me was related to history. He would go back to the beginning of Egypt and the beginning of civilization and various crusades and wars and medical history and that kind of thing. I learned a lot from him, and still do.
The other person who influenced me was my uncle, Andrew Allen. He pastored First Baptist Church of Deanwood, off of Sheriff Road, for, I guess, 31 years until he died. We hung out together all the time. They called me to the junior church there, which is designed for children. My apprenticeship was there. Hundreds of children came to Christ. It was really interesting, though, that the adults began pushing the kids out . . .
Destiny – Pride: Because they were coming down . . .
Pastor Allen: Yes. My uncle would say, “Look, y’all got to get out of there!” He would even come over there and put them out! That was quite a learning experience.
Destiny – Pride: Now that was cute!
Pastor Allen: Do you know Gardner Taylor?
Destiny – Pride: Yes. I think everybody in the world knows Gardner Taylor. I don’t know him personally, but I know of his history. It think at one time I was in his presence, but Gardner Taylor is like the “guru.”
Pastor Allen: Well I was president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention’s Youth Department. That was back in ’71 when I first started preaching. Of course, there were people in his congregation that were in the Youth Department. I had the awesome invitation to preach for him in New York. That was something.
Destiny – Pride: Did you have butterflies?
Pastor Allen: I sure did! I came into his office, and you know how he is. He said, “My son, what are you going to preach today?” I said – and I was scared to death – “I’m going to preach on ‘Black Theology’ by James Cone.” He said, “What!!! Cone? Black Theology? Ain’t no such thing as ‘black theology.’ Ain’t no color to the gospel!” I said, “Oh, then I’ve got to redo my sermon because I was going to talk about that.” He said, “You preach the truth, and you preach the gospel!”
On that same Sunday, Moms Mabley died. I said, “You know, Moms Mabley always said she would rather see a young man than and old man any day.” I said “Well, y’all got a young man today.” And the whole church roared. There were thousands of people there – at least 5,000 people. That was really awesome! I never forgot that experience.
When we went back and forth to the Convention, which occurs about the same time each year, sometimes I would catch up with Pastor Taylor on the plane and sit beside him. He would pour out his knowledge on me – and then he’d go to sleep.
Destiny – Pride: Tell us, from an historical perspective, about Upper Room Baptist Church. What did your father envision when he founded the church in 1957? I think you did talk about some of it, but if you would go through a chronological walk of where he started and where we are in 2012.
Pastor Allen: Well, I guess the best way to describe that is that he developed the church on Minnesota Avenue and developed ministries in terms of a prison ministry, AA [Alcoholics Anonymous], scholarships for young people. . .
Destiny – Pride: Tell us about what was here from the beginning point because, at first, it wasn’t a church here, right? It was a building or a store or something . . .
Pastor Allen: It was a church here. It was a church here and a paint store next to that. And then a gas station next to that. As I said, we bought the church from the Convention. My father was a very influential person, and he went to Mr. Owens who was the president of Perpetual Bank at that time. He told his story to him, and he gave him the money to purchase the building. Then he went back to him to purchase the paint store, which the owner – whose name I think was Winslow – told my father that he was first in line to purchase the building and the store. We primarily used it for storage for a little while. Then he purchased the gas station. Then we turned the gas station into a barbecue pit business. I think you came by sometimes and bought something. We liked to say that we had the best barbecue in the city. That’s what happened.
When the Allen House came to be, we tore all of that down and built the Allen House.
Destiny – Pride: But before you built the Allen House, you built the church’s edifice. So how did you move from purchasing the buildings to building the church? When did you move into the new edifice?
Pastor Allen: I think it was around 1968. Next door was St. Jude. We tried to buy that, but they wouldn’t sell to us.
Destiny – Pride: Yes, there is a church that is almost adjacent to you, so you did try to purchase St. Jude and they would not sell, and they are there as of today.
Pastor Allen: Right. They interrupted the vision because they wouldn’t move, so we just prayed to God to send us to a property where we could do Christian education and community work. We can only do things with what we have, and that’s kind of limited. We did have a day care ministry, which was the top learning facility that I administered. We had 125 children; 75 in what we called the “Chapel” – the old church – and the other 50 in the new church. We had from infants up to the sixth grade. We were attempting to reach the needs of unwed mothers coming from the community – primarily from the projects. They had the WIC parents, so it was my delight to work with the children because I see them as the greatest resources that we have. They are not the generation of tomorrow, they are the generation of today because they don’t learn what is “taught” as much as they do what is “caught.” What I mean by that is that a lot of them get caught up on public assistance, and that’s all that they see, so it becomes difficult to move them from dependency to self-sufficiency. I studied BF Skinner and Montessori. One time I was taking a class in the old DC Teachers College, and I was the only male in the class. They asked me, “Why are you here?” The answer was that I was trying to learn about childhood development. You know, many men have thrown out theories, but the interesting thing is that women do all of the teaching.
Destiny – Pride: Okay. Now, we’re going to fast forward. You’re over at Upper Room and you’re flourishing. Upper Room has become a legend within this town. So now tell us about the vision of the Allen House.
Pastor Allen: Well the vision of the Allen House is to help seniors, in the last phase of their lives, find a home that’s decent, clean and up-to-date – some place where they would be proud to be for the rest of their lives. HR Crawford was my teacher at Howard. He, David Eaton, Dean Grisby and Dean Jones were all a part of the project as well. Subsequently, HR Crawford became our manager. Then we changed managers to Equity Management.
I would say that the people here now enjoy their experience here and we try to do the best we can to make it comfortable for them.
Destiny – Pride: What’s the criteria for getting into the Allen House?
Pastor Allen: It’s just based on the age and income. Belinda Rollins is an outstanding manager; the best one that we have had. We’ve had several and she has turned out to be the best. She has many ideas and she stands up to the test. We thank God for her and also for the president of the Allen House Corporation, Brother John McMillan. He is also the president of our Usher Board and the cook for all of our food endeavors.
So what I want to do is purchase this Domino’s Pizza, the Wilson Building, the Eddie’s, the service station and those other two stores in between. Then I want to set up an enterprise for the community so that I have resources where the people in this Ward can come and have an experience.
Destiny – Pride: What type of enterprise are you talking about?
Pastor Allen: The main one is similar to OIC in Philadelphia where we would be generating computer training and jobs for employment, an AIDS Center to help people with that audacious problem. This week we are celebrating programs in that regard. My wife works with an organization that focuses on AIDS.
Destiny – Pride: What’s the name of that?
Pastor Allen: It’s the Far Northeast Ecumenical Outreach Ministry. That’s my vision, Brother Rufus, and that’s what I’d like to do.
Destiny – Pride: Now tell us about Upper Room Baptist Church from the perspective of your ministry and your tenure as pastor there. What are some of the highlights that you have achieved since you have been at the realm?
Pastor Allen: Well basically I’ve been trying to hold the church together and keep it on a positive note. I’ve been trying to reach out to the community to get more young people involved, such as in Vacation Bible School, Sunday School, or more training for people who I’ve found that don’t have a decent high school diploma. A lot of our members are elderly, so we have lost the young adult element, even in this middle class situation. So my vision is to try to reach them. I use the prophecy of Nehemiah to advocate what I’m about and Nehemiah said that the people built the wall because they had a mind to work. He said, “I’m up on the wall and I’m not coming down.”
The story of Nehemiah, in short, is that the wall had been destroyed. When Nehemiah heard about it, it brought him to tears, prayer and fasting. He was a cupbearer, so he asked the king if he could take a leave of absence to go home and rebuild the wall. He did get that leave of absence and he did have an experience with the enemy who tried to stop him. But the work of God can’t be stopped because when God wills that something be done, it gets done.
So our church has gone through a metamorphosis – a storm, if you would call it. I don’t want to get too detailed about it, but we survived it and we’re trying to rebuild and come back.
Destiny – Pride: I believe that my next question is going to amplify on that because that is the problem of a lot of inner-city churches, for instance, the church that I attend – Mount Carmel Baptist Church – regarding that gap that you are talking about. So my question is, has the “church” climate changed from the time of your father’s leadership up to your present ministry? If so, how? I think you kind of hit on it concerning the gap that is there.
Pastor Allen: Yes. In my father’s day, there were several thousand people who came in and out of the church. In my day, it’s a whole rebuilding process. We have about 140 members, including children. It is said that 100 members is a successful church in this day and time.
Coming up on the third Sunday in September [September 16], 10,000 churches throughout the country are going to have what is called “Back to Church Sunday.” The plan is to get people to come back to church. That’s what we are joining in terms of the campaign. And why should we participate? Because it’s a catalyst. Pastors give a call to action; communities have a rallying point. It’s a simple kind of thing where we’ve got one clear message: “Come Back to Church!” It’s personal; it empowers members to make a personal invitation to people they know to come to church; it works. Twenty-six percent will show in terms of an increase in coming back. Grassroots will be shown by empowering people, and not a program. It’s something that’s free. People will be energized.
Destiny – Pride: I think that you’ve hit on my next question. What are you doing to keep ahead of the climate change and how is it working for you? I can see how you and other churches – and even my church, Mount Carmel – are trying to reach out to those individuals that have fallen by the wayside. You should be commended for that.
Pastor Allen: Was your church pastored by Dr. Patterson?
Destiny – Pride: Yes. Dr. Rossie L. Patterson. First it was Dr. [William Henry] Jernigan. Our current pastor is Dr. Joseph Norman Evans. He’s also on the Mayor’s Ministerial Advisory. But we have lost tremendous membership, especially as the black middleclass has moved to Prince George’s County. And we are also feeling the gap of that middle-aged grouping, and when that middle-aged grouping is missing, the children are also missing. Church attendance has jumped from the very young all the way to the seniors, who are the main ones holding us together.
Pastor Allen: Well, the Lord gave me this vision not only of Nehemiah, but of Acts 1:8.
Destiny – Pride: And what is Acts 1:8?
Pastor Allen: It says that you will receive power and be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world. So we see “Jerusalem” as being the Headquarters where the church is located in Ward 7. We see “Judea” as the city of Washington, and “Samaria” as being the North America continent, with the “uttermost parts” of the world being the rest of planet earth. So we are encouraging our members. We are training them on how they can evangelize in these areas simply by word of mouth. We just say that if they reach out just to one person, that will multiple and duplicate itself in terms of growth. More than reaching out to the adults, we’re reaching out to the kids, because if we reach them, the parents will be integral.
Destiny – Pride: How might anyone contact you to get more information about the Allen House and your ministry at Upper Room Baptist Church?
Pastor Allen: Well they just can call the number for the Allen House and talk to Belinda Rollins who, as I said earlier, is the manager. She will be glad to assist them. The number is 202-397-1862. We don’t have a website for the church yet, but we do plan to put one together. But now, turning this around, I want to put on the table an effort to work with you [Destiny – Pride] in terms of what you’re doing in the community and what we’re trying to do in our youth ministry, especially our project on obesity.
Destiny – Pride: We would be honored to work with you. What would you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
Pastor Allen: My greatest accomplishment is to have survived as a Baptist pastor.
Destiny – Pride: What do you mean by that? I can’t let you get away with just saying that!
Pastor Allen: Well, you’ve got to preach when you don’t feel like preaching. You’ve got to teach when folks don’t want to hear it. You’ve got to babysit sometimes. You’ve got to be available for folks to dump on you and tell you all of their problems. You’ve got to take criticism when they’re not satisfied with anything you do. You sing; they don’t want to hear that. You pray; they don’t want to hear that. You preach; they don’t want to hear that. They don’t want to be in church a long time, so, you cut the service short. Then they complain that the service is too short. So no matter what you do! They do God the same way.
Destiny – Pride: What about your major disappointment?
Pastor Allen: My major disappointment is this whole piece on church attendance. Just trying to get people to come to church; and they don’t. That’s a major piece. I’m still praying about it, and God’s going to move on it.
Destiny – Pride: Right. I think so, too! What do you do to relax?
Pastor Allen: I like to go swimming when I have time to do so, and go to different places with my wife, to take a break. We’re going on vacation for the month of August and we’re trying to decide which way we’re going to go. The other thing is that I just relax in my office. I meditate and pray; listen to music; listen to my sermons – how bad they are! “Why did I say this?” “Who in the world would sit and listen to this nonsense!”
Destiny – Pride: We’re sometimes our worst critics, right? Now, before I ask you for your last thoughts, you were going to share with our visitors some of the great programs and initiatives that you are now involved in. I really want you to tell us about that whole worldwide radio program that you have and the good things you’re doing with that.
Pastor Allen: Well the history of that is called “People’s Pulpit Worldwide,” and it started in the days of Sunny Jim Kelsey at WOL [Radio]. I came to him one day and I told him, “Sunny, I’ve got this idea that I wanted to run by you.” I just had an interest in doing radio and television. So he didn’t reject me or anything like that; he tried to be my manager. But you know how Sunny was!
Destiny – Pride: Yes, I do!
Pastor Allen: Crazy. He was a good brother, though! He helped me tremendously. I came on right after Bishop Williams from Bible Way, and so I had his audience in addition to my own. Ms. Miller gave me some time. I started my broadcast and then I broadcast live at WUST. We did that for a while. The problem was that people were staying home instead of coming to church.
Destiny – Pride: Right. You can’t win!
Pastor Allen: That was basically for the sick and shut-ins. I stepped aside from it for a little while, but then I was coming home one night and one of my members – Reggie, who did my video – told me about WPGR [World Power Gospel Radio] and Dr. Mays. He said, “You should call them and see if you can get on the air with him.” I called him the next morning, and ever since then I have been working with him. In a radio station they can only reach maybe about sixty miles from which their voices are heard, and then it gets muffled. We have the technology at WPGR where we can reach around the world, and when we translate the voice into a language, it’s heard in that language and you understand it.
Destiny – Pride: Like in Korean or Chinese?
Pastor Allen: Right. Our biggest audience is South Korea.
Destiny – Pride: Do you also broadcast in Africa?
Pastor Allen: All over.
Destiny – Pride: What is the local radio dial for this region?
Pastor Allen: It’s on the internet and it’s at http://www.wpgr.tv/.
Destiny – Pride: Oh, so you go on the website?
Pastor Allen: Yes. I’m the District’s representative for WPGR.
Destiny – Pride: What time do you come on?
Pastor Allen: Wednesday’s from 12:00pm to 1:00pm.
Destiny – Pride: And that’s Eastern Time, right?
Destiny – Pride: Right.
Destiny – Pride: I want to make sure our visitors are able to turn on at that time: Wednesdays at 12:00.
Pastor Allen: Right. And my format is information, inspiration and music primarily. I talk about anything from AIDS, curriculums for young people, how to get a job, obesity, and various other subject matters in terms of religion; a wealth of information. Sometimes I just preach.
Destiny – Pride: Give us any last thoughts or insights that you would like to share and leave with our visitors.
To see the video of Pastor Allen’s response
To read his response, continue below.
Pastor Allen: Well, one thing is that I want to thank God for my 41 years of pastoring and leading God’s people, whether it be at Upper Room Baptist Church, Bethlehem Baptist Church, or First Baptist Church of Deanwood, or my home church in Richmond, Virginia, which is another Bethlehem Baptist Church. I thank God for the vision and dream of this department of ministry, which we call the Allen House, which God gave us the resources to build and the opportunity to help people help themselves. And I’m honored to have the contribution of this program [Destiny – Pride], administered by you, Brother Rufus. Indeed it’s an honor.
And finally, I surmise that the greatest achievement that I could ever make is to reach people for Jesus Christ, and lift him up, that the world may see Jesus through my life.
Destiny – Pride: Destiny – Pride thanks you, Pastor Allen, for being our August 2012 Spotlight. We have learned about you, your father and the history belonging to the Upper Room Baptist Church. We wish you and your congregation well as you continue to expand and bring your ministry and services to your immediate and surrounding communities. There is much work that needs to be done in our communities and we are thankful for organizations and ministries like Upper Room Baptist Church to continue the task of reaching out and lifting the lives, both spiritually and physically, of so many in need. Thank you very much!
Pastor Allen: And thank you, Brother Rufus, for these moments.