Covenant Baptist seeks greener pastures Burgeoning flock eyes bigger site WEST COUNTY -- Clarksville * Highland * Glenelg * Lisbon

October 29, 1992|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

The Covenant Baptist Church of West Columbia may have found its green pastures, but not in Columbia.

Pastor D. Walter Collett hopes that by 1995, he will be able to move his burgeoning flock of 500 to 123 acres of rolling, overgrown farmland north of Route 108 and along the west side of Centennial Lane.

In just two years, the church has grown out of its modest quarters on 6.3 acres at Cedar Lane and Cedar Fern Court and become a well-known conservative voice on issues, such as abortion and homosexuality.

The church's Bible classes can't all fit in the 9,000-square-foot building, the pews are packed on Sunday, and some neighbors complain about noise.

"We had over 600 people at our Easter service last spring," said Mr. Collett of the church built to seat about 230. "Most of our Bible study classes are meeting at Swansfield Elementary, because we don't have the room in the building."

The congregation has a contract from the Mooseberger family to buy the parcel off Centennial Lane.

The sale is contingent upon several factors, principally that the church receive a special exception from the county Board of Appeals. The property, appraised at $1.9 million, would sell for about $1.7 million, Mr. Collett said.

Plans call for a building, as large as 45,000 square feet and costing perhaps $3 million, for worship services and a Christian elementary school.

"There was a concern whether or not we would have enough property for a Christian school," Mr. Collett said. "This provides us with potential for growth," with enough space for parking and perhaps ball fields for the school.

The minister sees the property as ideal for church programs such as the Royal Ambassadors, in which children "study environmental issues from a Creation perspective."

Once the elementary school gets started, the vast open space will be perfect for biology classes, he said. "There's going to be a nature laboratory right on the property."

The church withdrew a special exception petition for the Cedar Lane property that would have allowed it to build the school there. Mr. Collett said he plans to file a new petition for a special exception to build on the Centennial Lane property.

While church members will be happy to move to the new quarters, some of the church's neighbors will also be pleased to see it go.

Mary Brundage, who lives in townhouses behind the church, said she was relieved to learn that the church had withdrawn its petition for the school.

"You can't even have your dinner in peace on a Sunday," she said of the marathon services held at the church. Cars coming and going, and even "blowing horns, screaming kids at midnight, coming back from some camp or something," have made Ms. Brundage contemplate selling her $170,000 home.

The bustle of the church's five worship services and three Bible study sessions each weekend is part of what has motivated the church to look elsewhere for expansion, Pastor Collett said.

Some of the more liberal Columbia neighbors are also uncomfortable, Ms. Brundage added, with the church's political stance.

The church is well-known for the pink and blue crosses it plants on its lawn to represent the number of abortions in Maryland. Mr. Collett made headlines last December when the County Council refused to confirm his nomination to the county human rights commission.

Some council members said they opposed the nomination because of the Southern Baptist's anti-abortion stance, others because he supports making homosexuality illegal.

The church has come a long way since it was founded in 1983, meeting in Harper's Choice Middle School. Two years later, it bought the Cedar Lane parcel. When the congregation moved into its current building, it had about 180 members and has nearly tripled since then.

Paying for the new property "is going to be a challenge," Mr. Collett said, but one he believes church members are up to, judging from how well they have paid for their current property.

"This year alone, not only have we paid the mortgage, but we've paid over $120,000 toward the principal in the first nine months of this year," Pastor Collett said.

"It's a venture of faith, it really is."

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