A week from Sunday, the Rev. Brad Allison will preach his first sermon in a movie theater.
Not that the Harundale Cinema looks like a theater now, after a $650,000 renovation. The theater seats are gone,soon to be replaced with pews. Church offices replace the popcorn stand. Instead of a white marquee spelling out the latest flick, there's a simple cross.
"It looks a lot different than a movie theater," said Allison. "It actually looks somewhat like a church!"
The newly renovated sanctuary, located just behind Harundale Mall, will seat 500 people, ample room for the 300-member Glen Burnie Evangelical Presbyterian Churchto grow. The church moved its offices into the building this week, and the first Sunday service is scheduled for March 1.
"It feels great, but it's feels strange because we've been nomads for 7 1/2 yearsnow," said Allison. "But we are so excited. Everybody's very thankful."
Los Angeles-based General Cinemas couldn't afford to keep the county's last two-screen cinema going several years ago, so it sold the place to the church.
"We'd heard of churches renovating buildings other than church buildings," explained Allison. "There's not a whole lot of land left in Glen Burnie that's affordable, and we wanted to be right in Glen Burnie."
After a renovation that took 14 months, the congregation is ready to move from a rented room in a school to a more permanent home. The community is invited to a formal dedication service at 4 p.m. March 8, followed by an open house with a reception.
The Glen Burnie church is one of five in the conservative Presbyterian denomination known as "Evangelical Presbyterian" in the county, most started within the last decade. The first, in Annapolis, has existed for about 25 years.
The second, the Severna Park EP Church, was started in the ear
ly 1980s. The Glen Burnie congregationwas third in line, starting seven years ago, followed by an EP church in Arnold and within the last year, one in Odenton.
"There are alot of good churches around," said Allison. As members of this Presbyterian denomination, "our distinctives are that we're evangelical --we believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God.
"We have a fairly outward-looking denomination, too. We believe we have a mission from God to share the good news of the gospel."
Then the minister paused, carefully qualifying: "All we have to offer is the gospel, and we're not the only ones who do that. We believe the gospel has the power to change lives, but that's where the power is. It's not in us. We're not the ones that change people."
They have changed the old cinema, though, from a squat box fronted by what Allison calls "tacky art deco" black-and-white tiles to the simple elegance of the presentstructure.
It was a big job. First, parishioners had to subdividethe cinema from the eight houses and one vacant lot that were on therest of the block they bought. The sale of their surplus real estatehelped them recoup some of the original $820,000 purchase price.
Much work needed to be done to make the square cinder-block building look like a place of worship. The church paid another $650,000 to renovate and furnish the building, leveling the floor, buying pews and installing windows. Workmen covered the cinder blocks with a stucco-like, textured substance in a warm pinkish-beige shade.
In addition to the sanctuary, the 1,600-square-foot, two-storybuilding contains amulti-purpose room, classrooms, church offices and nurseries.
A pitched roof was built over the awning running around the building anda bell tower added on one corner. The two most expensive construction projects, Allison said, have been leveling the floor and installingnew heating and air conditioning systems.
As founding pastor of the church, Allison expressed relief that the church no longer has to set up and take down its worship service every week at a nearby elementary school -- and that the new church is almost finished.
"If you could see what we had to work with," said Allison, shaking his head. "Well, it looked like a cinema. Now, we hope, with the cross on thebuilding, people will know it's a church."