At inner-city church in East Baltimore, some loosen their spirits shooting arrows

MARYLAND LIFE

April 08, 1991|By Rafael Alvarez

In the gym of an old stone church in East Baltimore stand the Golden Arrows of Glory.

The women and young girls are dressed like Colonial Pilgrims in linen bonnets and clothes sewn by hand; their husbands, sons and brothers stand alongside, some of the children as young as 3.

All are armed with hunting bows.

With arms taut and eyes steady, the archers take aim at a target across the wooden floor of the gym -- a big hunk of plastic foam, sometimes shaped like a deer or a bear, adorned with balloons.

They let 'em rip, and in the blink of an eye, the swift and quiet slither of arrows pierces the air, giving way to the pop! pop! pop! of balloons exploding into shreds of color at the other end of the gym.

It's another Monday night of practice and worship at the corner of East Baltimore and Washington streets for the Christian Archery Association of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

"This is just something we like to do. Some of the church brothers are competitive archers, and I like to see the kids enjoy themselves," said Warren Irvington Ensor Sr., a minister of the church and founder of its Golden Arrows of Glory club. "But the Lord is far more important than this."

Mr. Ensor, 41, and his wife, Linda, 38, stepped back from mainstream society 17 years ago to follow the Lord and live by Scripture. In this way they are raising seven children between the ages of 1 and 16. The dress of the women in the family reflects Bible verses on conservative clothing.

Mr. Ensor said that most of their old friends and many family members had "separated away" from them because of the strict beliefs.

"They only want so much God in their lives," he said.

Although the Ensors count on annual deer kills to supplement their pantry -- they convert every bit of usable venison carcass into steaks, chops and ground meat -- the Golden Arrows of Glory is just a recreational diversion in the midst of sober faith, something fun, like Little League baseball.

Emmanuel, their 14-year-old son, has already downed a 95-pound deer. Elisha, their 3-year-old boy, can hit a bull's eye at 20 paces, and most of the other children shoot, too, the boys wearing caps and T-shirts with the club logo and the motto "Put God First."

Mr. Ensor, a former sport fisherman and an avid hunter, said he started the club as a church organization five years ago because he didn't like the way the other archers behaved at public shooting ranges.

"If you're really trying to be a Christian, when you're around cussing and carrying on, it vexes you from day to day," he said.

Where secular families pay a registration fee to sign up junior for a community baseball team, more than the $25-per-family fee is expected of those who want to join the Golden Arrows of Glory.

A recent issue of the club's newsletter said, "The purpose of our club is to teach our children the use of the bow while we are serving our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in spirit and in truth. We also offer instruction to others in our midst who are faithful to the house of God. In other words, if you desire to participate in our archery program you must first be coming to Church or be attending a Church of like faith on a regular basis and be showing evidence that your first desire is to serve our Lord, Jesus Christ."

Following beliefs that emerged from the United Pentecostal Church, the Ensors are attempting an uncompromising, day-in-and-day-out faith that has led them to accept life amid strange circumstances.

"You live like this, and you're going to get mocked and crucified," said Mrs. Ensor, remembering the times her family has been accused of belonging to a cult by friends and strangers.

Natives of Dundalk and married in their teens, the Ensors live in a neighborhood where few people would freely choose to raise a )) family. For almost three years they have lived in a large, rehabilitated row house in the 1100 block of East Baltimore Street, about a mile from the family church.

It is a tough, desperate stretch of asphalt and concrete just west of Central Avenue, made up of several independent mission houses and abandoned buildings where doorways and a dirty public park are given over to the homeless, the chronically drugged and intoxicated, and all manner of troublemakers.

Across the street is the nearly vacant hulk of the old Seafarers International Union hall, a sad building that once thrived with a union cafeteria and a doctor's office and sailors looking for work; now it is a dusty building mostly idle through the collapse of the U.S. merchant marine.

It's an area where people take aim not with bow and arrow but with firearms, and where the targets are often human. The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, directed by Mr. Ensor's bishop, David Steven Skelton, owns most of the block and several buildings in the alley behind.

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