Credo: The Rev. Earl Trent

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People,Liz Essley,Credo,Religion

For 18 years, Trent has served as pastor of Florida Avenue Baptist Church, an African-American congregation with a 100-year history in Shaw, just across from the newly renovated Howard Theatre. Trent lives in Bowie and is a native of East Orange, N.J.

Do you consider yourself to be of a specific faith?

I'm Baptist. My emphasis has always been on really caring for people with an eye towards social justice, because that's where the need is most.

What is your message to your congregation this Christmas?

We've had some very trying days. The real message is to really appreciate and not take for granted the precious gift we have of one another -- especially our children. And we all, for good or ill, have influence on them. Let us look at that very seriously. Any child you look at, God has got his hand on them. So we should respond appropriately. If we look at every child as the Christ child, that makes a difference. You wouldn't take Jesus for granted, so don't take any child for granted.

Your church practices "dynamic discipleship." What does that mean?

We're very outgoing. The emphasis is making a difference. We're not a megachurch, so the things we do we want to do well. That's part of that dynamic. It's not the quantity but the quality. We go out and try to help those in need. We're really focused on that. We're not shy. If there's a social justice issue, we try to take it on. When there was a flood in Princeville, N.C., we sent building teams not just once, but five times. We did the same thing with Katrina. Our mission was not a photo op, but in a very intentional manner.

Your church is in Shaw, a neighborhood transforming before your eyes. What do you see happening? Are new residents bringing new problems?

When I first came, it was a blighted community. Part of our commitment to stay here was because we wanted to help this community. We started holding sunrise services out in front of Howard Hospital because we wanted to lay a claim on the community. We were instrumental in getting the LeDroit Park Civic Association started. Now the challenges are new people have moved in -- so we say, "Come, see and learn who we are," and we'll learn who they are. It's also the challenges of the 21st century. We are one of the few churches that have a solar power plant on our building. We started a green ministry. We have one planet; we have to do a better job of how we sustain and take care of it. We are a church of social justice. We're serving. The challenge is getting past people's preconceptions. They see a Baptist church, and they don't understand this is not the 1930s. We're not that kind of model. We are a 21st-century church.

At your core, what is one of your defining beliefs?

At my core, one of my defining beliefs is that all of our ministry is based on the passage in Luke 4, to lift up the brokenhearted, to liberate the captives, to set the oppressed free. That's the center of our ministry.

- Liz Essley

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Liz Essley

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner