A Rastafarian dancer isn't the type of entertainment one immediately associates with staunch Methodism. At St. Mark United Methodist Church today, however, a member of the Jamaican religious sect will be part of a celebration of parishioners' African cultural heritage.
"It gives kids growing up a sense of roots, helps them connect their cultural and religious experience, and the whole issue that spirituality had its place in black experience," said Preston T. Hebron Jr., chairman of Race and Religion at the church.
"Usually this guy comes clad in a sort of witch doctor's outfit and performs a ritual on stilts. The children really are spellbound," Hebron said.
The predominantly black Hanover congregation is celebrating its ninth year of Motherland Cultural Day, as well as a yearlong recognition of its 150th anniversary.
On this special day, church members and visitors are invited to come dressed in garb that reflects "how our forefathers worked," Hebron said. "There'll be lots of farm outfits; we'll have a concession outside that sells fresh vegetables; we'll have vintage cars here and an old buckboard and some farm animals."
Church members also may come dressed to reflect a current profession, or in an "African motif," he added.
"We celebrate this to strengthen our heritage," said Hebron. "It also gives us the opportunity to reflect on the past."
Black Methodists' religious history includes the Rastafarians, a group who popularized dreadlocks and held that blacks will eventually be repatriated to Africa.
St. Mark's former minister, the Rev. Dr. Roland J. Timity, now pastor of Ryland-Epworth United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., and the man who started Heritage Day, will be the guest speaker at today's 11 a.m. service. The Chancel Choir will perform classical and gospel music.
After the service, everyone will retire to the educational building to dine on a covered-dish luncheon. "By having this communal meal, we seek to strengthen the religious beliefs of Methodists and to forge families together," Hebron said.
Hebron, the principal of Jessup Elementary School and part of a large family that attends the church, said its programs provided the foundation for his academic achievement and fostered his self-esteem.
He and his family will be among church members and visitors buying vegetables today from a stand set up outside the church and watching the dancer.
Another favorite activity of Heritage Sunday is taking pictures around old cars and on the wagons, said Emma Warren, a coordinator of the program.
St. Mark has celebrated tradition and family since its founders first met in a barn on nearby Ridge Road in 1842, said the minister, the Rev. James S. Webb Jr. After meeting in the barn for two years, members built a log cabin church where they worshiped for 23 years.
The parish, which serves Dorsey, Matthewstown, Harmans and parts of Severn, moved to Dorsey Road in 1968.
Parishioners are being asked to donate $15 for Heritage Day. Half of the money raised from the day's event will be used to patch the roof on the church's educational wing. The other half will go to a Methodist congregation in Sierra Leone, West Africa.
"Their church roof blew off about eight years ago, and we've been sending them funds every year to help restore their church," said Hebron, chairman of the St. Mark board for six years. The church sponsors numerous programs to help the poor and sick.