Three faded tombstones overlook Baldwin Mill Road in Forest Hill, bent by time and age toward the ground as if in mourning for the congregation that has died and left Old Brick Church all but empty after 354 years.
The crude cemetery markers for J D, D P B, and M J G are among the earliest signs of faith at the Primitive Baptist church that sits on a hill a mile south from Route 23. The names of the three Colonial-era people and when they lived and died have long been forgotten.
In one corner of the cemetery, the tombstone of Elizabeth Denbow has tumbled from its pedestal but is propped up by husband Gabriel's grave.
FOR THE RECORD - A story in last week's The Harford County Sun about the Old Brick Church in Forest Hill contained inaccuracies.
It is Irene Bucklin's husband, Glenn, who is a trustee of the church. The age of the churchis 250 years. One of the deceased parishioners buried at the cemetery was misidentified. Her name is Mary Zora Phillips. The correct address for sending donations to help the church restore the cemetery is:The Bucklins, 2022 Schuster Road, Jarrettsville, Md. 21084.
Church trustees are looking for the same kind of support to preserve the graves of more than 200 of their spiritual and family ancestors.
"I just love that church because my mother was a member and I went there as a child," says church trustee Irene Bucklin, a Jarrettsville resident.
Neighbors help keep the grass trimmedand Irene and her husband, Glenn Bucklin, are soliciting money from the community to bolster the cemetery's perpetual care fund, which has $12,000 principal and yields less than $100 a month. Last year, a funeral contractor told church trustees it would cost $38,000 to put up markers missing from many graves and repair dozens of tombstones that have been broken or knocked off pedestals.
The church has survived Indian attack, a Civil War fire and Hurricane Agnes. But its future has been threatened as the church members died or moved to other parishes.
The church depends on people like Forest Hill resident Kathleen Eichelberger, 67, who says she must have more than 50 relatives buried in the cemetery among the scores of Durhams, Amosses and Baldwins.
"This is what is known as the 'old school' Baptist Church, which means it had no Sunday school," she says. "When I was a grown woman, I decided I wanted to attend Sunday school and went to a Methodist church where some of my friends belonged. (Old Brick) only had church meetings once a month and I wanted to attend more regularly."
The fresh flowers Eichelberger leaves for her parents, George and Mary Laura Phillips, stand in contrast to most of the forlorn graves that sit neglected among the patches of brown grass.
With the last handful of active members in their 70s and 80s, the church gets only sporadic care. It needs a new floor and a row of 6-inch pine trees is shriveling.
Beth Lowe, whose home borders the church, grew up watching it decline as the cemetery grew.
"It's sad to see them all dwindle, and I'm sorry to say, I've seen them all buried," she says. "We used to see the fireworks from Bel Air. You could see them sitting on a tombstone before all the houses were built."
The trustees intend to seek designation for the church as a national historic landmark to preserve it from development that has changed the area west of Bel Air.
With changes in the neighborhood, Irene Bucklin says the church has been locked for years against vandals. But she has faith that it will survive.
"We believe God will provide and all it takes is perseverance and dedication," she says.
* Contributions can be sent to the Bucklins at 2022 Schuster Road, Jarrettsville MD 21050.