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King’s Church sees spiritual fruit in the nation’s capital

In the face of great odds and big obstacles, King's Church is making an impact in the nation's capital. “There were so many things working against,” said Pastor Ben Palka (at podium). “Yet we just said ‘we’re going to put our heads down, trust in Jesus and press on.’”

WASHINGTON (BP) – In a city known for presidents, King’s Church is making a Gospel impact a short distance from Capitol Hill and the White House

After enduring some “brutal” beginnings, the church recently surpassed 500 attendees, began the process of securing its own permanent space and celebrated its 100th baptism.

“There were so many things working against,” said Ben Palka, pastor of King’s Church. “Yet we just said ‘we’re going to put our heads down, trust in Jesus and press on.’”

King’s Church recently celebrated its 100th baptism since its founding in 2018.

In 2018, Palka, a Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate, left with a handful of other church members from Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, N.C., to plant a church in the District of Columbia.

King’s Church initially met on the third floor of a hotel in a conference room. Palka explained most of the 20 to 30 attendees were driving in from outside of the downtown area.

Because the conference room could not be seen from the street, advertising and spreading the word about the church was difficult.

With resources dwindling, Palka said he and fellow pastor Wesley Welch were considering becoming bi-vocational or preparing an exit plan altogether.

“It was brutal,” Palka said. “It was bad. It was a slug-fest. We did not know what we were doing.

“The silver lining to all of that was that we formed a really tight-knit community. We did everything together.”

By 2019, things slowly began to look up for King’s Church.

After a whopping 150 different locations turned down the church’s offer to rent their facility, a random interaction with an Uber driver got them connected with a local private school which began hosting them on Sundays.

The church grew to around 65 people – a congregation made up of both believers and seekers. Soon, the church had its first conversion and baptism and launched a couple of small groups.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 was a gut punch to the church’s momentum.

“In 2019 we had really just begun to say we could see this long term,” Palka said.

“This (COVID) was just devastating because it felt like all the work we had done for two years, and all the struggles that we had endured, it’s just like ‘this is going to wreck everything.’”

Almost immediately, nearly one-third of the congregation moved away from the downtown area.

Instead of hanging their heads, Palka and the church’s leadership decided it was time to dig deep.

“We feel like the Lord called us to this work and we just leaned into knowing people and helping people to be known,” Palka said. “That was our motto.”

“There was a crisis in America and the world, and this is the occasion to rise up, this is the occasion to finally be the pastor that I was supposed to be. This is the time to really lean in. This is the time to step up.”

As soon as the mayor granted permission for churches to meet, King’s Church began operating under social distancing and other guidelines.

Palka said he believes they were the only church in the area actually meeting indoors at that point.

“We wanted to be sensitive to the mandates, but we’re going to do everything we can to operate,” he said.

“We saw the Lord at work in ways that I can’t even explain.”

More than 50 new people came to the church over the next four months. Eventually, the church would outgrow the school and begin renting an event space on Sundays.

The location is a half-mile from the White House and the Capitol in either direction, putting it right at the epicenter of the country’s politics.

The connection to politics is unavoidable. Palka said the Capitol riots on Jan. 6, 2021, happened five minutes from his home where Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is a nearby neighbor.

“One of the things we’ve been big on is we’re not going to be afraid of cultural issues,” Palka said.

“When Roe v. Wade was overturned, we celebrated that. When George Floyd happened, we addressed it and were not afraid. I wasn’t looking to score points or please anybody. I was looking to please the Lord and be a faithful witness to the Gospel in the city.”

Hannah Daniel, policy manager for the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), has been a member of King’s Church for more than a year.

King’s Church members, many of whom work in government or political jobs find comfort and camaraderie at the church.

She said the deep relationships and deep discussions found in the church met a need among young professionals in the downtown area.

“What drew me to King’s was really the vibrancy of the community there,” Daniel said. “Members knew each other, the pastors knew the members, and all were bought in to what the church was doing and had ownership of its well-being.

“D.C. was recently ranked as the loneliest city in the United States. Many ambitious, career-motivated people move here because of their professional goals and fail to form any meaningful relationships outside of their jobs. People are hungry for authentic community and meaningful relationships that are not dependent on how another person can help them professionally.

“Many of our members are directly working in government or in jobs that are deeply intertwined with politics. If the church wasn’t speaking to these issues, it would be ignoring a massive aspect of the daily lives of its members. If we are to be ambassadors for the Gospel in the public square, it’s vital that we be formed and discipled by the church in how we think about these difficult issues from a biblical perspective.”

Some of the future endeavors for the church include a capital campaign to fund an eventual permanent location and plans to start a church-planting network specifically to start churches in Western capitals such as Paris or Berlin.

“Our story is that we came into an urban Capitol with very little resources, not knowing much, and by God’s grace we started a healthy church that’s super connected and that’s seen a lot of fruitfulness,” Palka said.

“We feel like that’s very niche, but that we have something to offer the Kingdom of God in that we could help replicate and teach others how to start churches in capital cities and politically charged areas. It’s not in the place of any other network, we just feel like it’s our specialty and what we have to offer.”

Palka is simply thankful for how far King’s Church has come.

“I felt like I just couldn’t give up,” he said. “Church planting is so hard and pastoring is so hard, but I just felt like I would not give up no matter what. I would not quit. It’s been an amazing ride and I never thought we’d be here.”