The dismal economy has proved a boon for a new Odenton church.
Hard times tend to fill churches, and the Presbyterian Church in Odenton, which opened Dec. 1., is no exception, says the Rev. Tim Stern, the church's pastor.
In the four months since the church started, the congregation hasgrown to more than 100 people and sometimes has drawn 200 to worshipservices.
"The church is coming together as a community in largernumbers than we thought," Stern says. "We didn't realize it would happen this quickly."
As a confirmation of its success, the church this week signed a contract to buy land in Odenton. The future home ofthe church would be located just south of Odenton Baptist Church on Piney Orchard Parkway, or Route 170.
"We are pleased," says Stern."I am pleased, and the organizing committee is very pleased."
Thechurch, a mission church of the Baltimore Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., has been a hit for several reasons, Stern says.
Initially, the small group of founding members called hundreds of people in the area, inviting them to the church and asking if they would like to receive literature about a new church.
"We invited them. We also had friends invite their friends," says Stern. "People do respond when they are invited."
One Severn couple attracted by the friendliness of the pitch was Ray and Marcia Bussey. Bussey, alifelong resident of the county, heard about the new church through the advertisements and decided to attend the first service.
Busseyand his wife liked the family atmosphere, he says.
"I wasn't a Presbyterian, and we weren't attending any church," explains the 32-year-old. "But we have a young daughter and were just trying to search out a church."
The church also drew Presbyterians without a church home, Stern says. No Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) existed in the Odenton-Severn-Gambrills- Crownsville area, he says, so the church filleda niche.
The Presbytery of Baltimore, which founded the mission church, has been looking for a good spot in Odenton to locate a churchsince 1988, Stern says.
The fledgling congregation rents the Odenton Elementary School, which has meant setting up for a service everyweek.
"We're like a moving caravan," says Stern. "Every Sunday weset up and put away. Church lasts about 2 1/2 hours; it takes an hour and a half to set up and take down. It gets to be a little old, though everyone has a good spirit."
But even after deciding to buy land, finding the right spot for a church wasn't easy.
"It's not difficult to find land, but we wanted the best place to put a church andhired a consultant for that," the minister explains.
Of various parcels of land the church considered, none worked out. The church lost one piece of property to a parking lot for the Odenton light rail. Others weren't for sale or were too expensive. Some were unacceptablebecause of their topography.
Because building a church is so expensive, "you need to be on a main road where you're visible," says Stern. "You don't want to be hidden -- it's a waste of the church's resources if people don't know you're there."
Location is especially important for churches that seek to use their buildings as a mission tool, available to community groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous chapters, says Stern.
"It makes sense to be in an accessible place."
The new location, ideal for a sanctuary, classrooms and offices, is located in a high traffic area accessible to large portions of the community.
The church has 90 days to complete feasibility studies onthe 7.2 acres of land it plans to buy, and another nine months to make sure the location is suitable for a church under county zoning regulations.
Stern says he cannot discuss the exact cost of the land until the feasibility studies are completed. However, the sanctuary itself will likely cost between $400,000 and $600,000, he says.
Thecongregation would like to build as soon as possible, in part because of the difficulty of running a church out of a rented school.
How quickly the church can build depends, of course, on raising the money. The Presbytery of Baltimore will help the church make the transition from mission church to a congregation, says Stern. However, the Presbytery, comprised of 22,000 members, is also planning new churchesin Frederick, Baltimore County and Howard County, Stern says.
"They will help, but how much I don't know. It's a lot of money for themto come up with, if each church needs half a million dollars to buy land. Low-interest loans are a possibility," he says.
The church plans to become a chartered congregation on Oct. 25, Stern says. That will make them an official incorporation within the Presbytery of Baltimore, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.