When Natilie Towles embraced Tom Lutz, her dreadlocks and African earrings brushed against his red hair and checkered scarf.
Multicultural fellowship is what will make the New Song Community Church work, a panel of speakers and church organizers said yesterday at a dedication ceremony for the congregation's new church building.
"In any church where there's no mix of races, how can you learn the importance of being different?" asked Towles, who emceed the dedication.
Towles, a member of New Song, and Lutz, a member of the Hunt Valley Presbyterian Church of America, embraced at yesterday's dedication ceremony. Their two congregations have a sister relationship; both belong to the conservative, evangelical wing of the Presbyterian Church.
"Racial reconciliation can take place," said the Rev. Mark R. Gornik, pastor of New Song. "Even in a city as segregated as Baltimore, people can cross racial and economic barriers to support a common cause."
New Song opened in 1987 in Gornik's living room a block away from its new, four-story home in Sandtown-Winchester, a mostly black area in West Baltimore.
The congregation acquired a former convent on Gilmor Street in 1989 and began renovating it. More than 300 volunteers, using various grants, helped convert the convent into the church building that was dedicated yesterday.
The new church blends in well with the surrounding structures, but keynote speaker Dr. John Perkins said New Song should reach out more aggressively into the community and try to improve the low-income, crime-ridden area.
Much of the help for that effort should come from affluent Christians in the suburbs, said Perkins, who is founder and president emeritus of Voice of Calvary Ministries in Jackson, Miss.
"Jesus Christ did not commute to this Earth," said Perkins, who urged upscale professionals to follow the example of Jesus and move back into areas such as Sandtown to help revive them.
Lutz, an elder at Hunt Valley Presbyterian Church of America, said the leadership of his congregation is predominantly white and suburban. His congregation has helped New Song in its effort to locate in Sandtown-Winchester and will continue to work with the city congregation.
"There are those of us who are anxious to see a racial reconciliation as well as an economic one," Lutz said. "One of the principles behind this is integration."
Jack Kemp, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke; and U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes were guest speakers. U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., and 200 church members, residents and visitors from other churches also attended.
Kemp called the church a precursor to a "new chapter in civil rights."
After being used as a convent by the Sisters of Mercy, New Song's new home had been vacant for at least 15 years, Gornik said. Volunteers helped renovate the facility with funds provided through the Abell Foundation, Save the Children Federation and the Patella Fund. Many churches and individuals gave donations.
By the beginning of next year, New Song will provide not only religious services, but also legal, financial aid and youth services for community residents, said Allan Tibbles, program director and director of Sandtown Habitat, an affiliate of Habitat International.
A team of medical volunteers will be working at New Song's clinic-style health-care facility by the end of 1991, Tibbles said.
"Our problem has been 'where do we meet for this?" Tibbles said. "Now we have a place to meet."