Amish(-Mennonites) In the City


My father was a white, Amish-Mennonite preacher from a Pennsylvania horse-and-buggy ‘holler who started a beards-and-bonnets church in a Black ’hood in the nation’s capital.

Living cross-culturally for much of our lives, my siblings grew up singing “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” in their white skin and homemade Amish-Mennonite clothes, without a second thought.

And while our father Elmer Lapp came of age in a fertile farm valley, I found my deepest sense of self in the trash-strewn alleys of Kenilworth in Washington, DC.

The neighborhood, and my story, is defined by contradictions:

Mixed-race public housing, full of promise, devolving into “the projects.”
Black leaders lifting up their community, while dealers sling dope on the corner.
A river-fed park growing lilies and lotus, hard by a ‘hood sagging with urban blight.
Amish-Mennonite bumpkins becoming an unlikely anchor in the DC ghetto.

Despite overwhelming obstacles and persistent tragedy, these contradictions are overcome over and over by people who learn to love each other across racial, cultural, and geographical boundaries.

My memoir project:

  • Looks at successes (and failures) of the cross-racial, cross-cultural church my parents started
  • Creatively details challenges in urban Black neighborhoods like Kenilworth
  • Searches for positive approaches to heal racial and cultural divisions in American life

Full of insight and occasional irreverence, this is a surprisingly rollicking tale of what happens when the a capella hymns of the plain people meet the sweaty go-go music of Chocolate City. The real-life reality of Amish(-Mennonites) In the City, coming soon.

It seemed like every day brought something new, and I enjoyed the opportunity to ‘put the gospel in shoe leather,’ in other words to be out on the street. We learned, and people were kind to us.

Elmer Lapp

A lot of people in Kenilworth just couldn’t understand — all this blackness, why is this white group so deep in here?

Lenora Dubard-Burke

I saw them sucker punch you. I was looking out the window of that house you was born in, Joseph. I called the police. I said, “They hittin’ that whiteboy out there.”