Old Roots

Choir member Dave Parker seems like a calm and easy-going guy when you first meet him. But his affable exterior hides the soul of a lucha libre wrestler, as I discovered on October 6, when, before my very eyes, he tore a stump from the earth with his bare hands.


Admittedly, he had some help. Nine other members of the 18th Street Singers had joined him that Saturday to dig up the lawn in front of First Trinity Lutheran Church. We’d been hard at work all morning, loosening the soil with our shovels and pick-axes.

The church, which sits on the corner of 4th and E St. NW, has long been our choir’s home. Stroll by on a Monday evening, and you’ll probably hear our songs wafting out from its main hall. It’s the site of our rehearsals and our annual winter concert.

For almost a decade, pastors Wendy and Tom have lent their space to us. But that’s just business-as-usual for this institution, which emphasizes community and public service. Aside from feeding and clothing the homeless, the church also runs a restaurant next door that helps to get people on their feet by training them in food service.

Hoping to be of service ourselves, we signed up for the church’s latest project: preparing the grounds for a new rain-fed garden of indigenous plants. Before the plants could be installed, someone needed to uproot the old bushes and trees. That’s where we came in.

Fred Hall and John Stassen arrived early at 9 a.m. and helped members of the congregation smite the smaller plants. By 10 a.m., a bunch of us were wreaking havoc on a long row of hedges. Ben Olinsky and Ben Wallace demonstrated their prowess with the clippers, while Meredith Ewer-Speck dirtied her neon pink shoes and Pastor Tom hacked everything to bits with a chainsaw. Our bellies stuffed with donuts and bagels, we sang a South African tune as we worked, a folk song that we’ll sing at the church again before long when we return for our winter concert.

While some jumped up and down in a dumpster to pack down severed branches and leaves, others repainted fences. Rasika Teredesai sanded down the old paint while Mark Hays tripped out on the fumes of new paint. Michelle Luke ended up with more paint on her shirt than on her brush.  

By noon, only a patch of bare ground remained. And a folk saying came to mind: “old roots run deep.” Our aching arms testified both to its literal truth and to the strengthening of the old roots that have long nourished both the choir and the church.

This post was written by horticultural chronicler and 18th Street Singers social chair Devin Powell.