Howard's oldest Methodist church celebrates 155th with bigger flock ELLICOTT CITY/ELKRIDGE

December 14, 1992|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

When Emory United Methodist Church was founded in 1837, a provision in the original deed stipulated that the land was to be used "to preach and expound God's Holy Word."

Yesterday, the church celebrated its 155th anniversary with a luncheon and a visit from Bishop Joseph Yeakel of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

"Unlike a lot of churches, we've been meeting within the same four walls for 155 years," the Rev. Stephen Bryant said, with a touch of pride in his voice.

Affectionately nicknamed the "Sunflower Church" for the shape of a window above the pulpit, it is one of the oldest Methodist churches in Howard County.

During its first six years, the building had separate entrances for men and women.

From its hilltop overlooking Ellicott City, the church survived financial depressions, the Flood of 1868 and the Civil War.

During its golden anniversary in 1887, the building underwent remodeling.

Walls in the front and back of the building were torn down and large windows, including the "Sunflower," were installed.

When Mr. Bryant became pastor in 1987, the church celebrated its 150th anniversary with a historic worship service that re-created the style of its first services -- the presiding pastor wore street clothes instead of a ceremonial robe, and the congregation sang without the aid of hymnals or an organ.

Since his arrival, Mr. Bryant said, the church has made modest gains against steadily declining attendance during the past 20 years.

"From 1965 to 1985, Emory went on a real down-cycle," Mr. Bryant said. "The congregation was getting older and smaller. I think, right now, we're on an up-cycle."

Average attendance has increased by about 20 people to about 70, he said.

And, thanks to a child-care program, the congregation is attracting young families.

What began as a one-day-a-week child-care program in 1985 has matured into the Creative Child Enrichment Program for youngsters who need to polish their social skills before entering school. The program is offered four times a week in the morning and afternoon.

Sunday school attendance has also grown, Mr. Bryant said.

"Sunday school was practically nonexistent in 1987," he said. Now, an average of 40 to 50 people, from preschoolers to adults, attend Sunday school.

"I want to create an atmosphere where there's always something important going on," Mr. Bryant said.

His plan seems to work.

Barbara Michaud, church secretary and treasurer, returned to her childhood faith two years ago after attending a local Episcopal church as an adult.

"I like the family, homelike atmosphere," Ms. Michaud said of Emory United Methodist Church.

"I really felt like I was coming home."

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