Melville United's 'family' reunion marks 220 years ELLICOTT CITY/ELKRIDGE

December 28, 1992|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Usher Charles Heinbauch greets everyone with a hymnal, a handshake and a first-name hello as he stands at the open wooden doors of Melville United Methodist Church in Elkridge. Women in long wool coats and men taking off their caps and hats walk by with a smile and a wish for the holidays.

"Here, you feel like you're part of a big family," said Mr. Heinbauch, 62, who's been going to the church since he was a toddler. "You feel like you're at home here. You feel welcomed every time you open the door."

Parishioners say you just don't get this welcome-home feeling in other churches -- this special touch of kindness that sets this 100-member and growing church apart from others around.

Next weekend, the church -- believed to be the oldest in Howard County -- celebrates its 220th anniversary. Former parishioners and pastors have been invited to a dinner on Saturday, and the Rev. Terry Thrasher, a newcomer himself, will model Sunday's service after one that was held 50 years ago.

"When I came here, they treated me like family, like I had been here a long time," said Mr. Thrasher. "My first night here, they brought dinner, another tradition."

"Everybody's so friendly," said Cindy Spencer, 31, who joined the church in March. "It's like the difference between the country and the city. It's not like worshiping in a big church with thousands of people."

OC The church was across the railroad tracks up a grassy hill near

Grace Episcopal Church in 1772, its first year. Back then, Methodism had not yet been recognized as a religion, and parishioners met in what they called "classes."

The church's first pastor, Francis Asbury, worked a circuit of three churches. He later became the first Methodist bishop in the United States.

"Every time I stand on the pulpit, I'm constantly reminded I follow a long line of distinguished preachers," said Mr. Thrasher.

Some things never change. The brick building has the Colonial look of the period in which it was built. Every parishioner still gets a candle to light on Christmas Eve as they turn the lights out and sing "Silent Night," the last hymn.

"For 220 years, we've been doing this," said Mr. Thrasher. "I've been here for two years, but I felt chills."

Students still go to Sunday school, but now they hold classes in the Milk Bar, a renovated soda fountain shop that's adjacent to the church. Perhaps the only thing that's different is the central -- air conditioning the church installed last year.

What makes the church is the people, parishioners say.

"Whenever there's a need, they're there for you," said Cheryl Merson, 30, who was married in the church.

"It's a warm feeling, and the spirit is really in this church more than anywhere else," said Linda Mayer, 35, who joined the church this summer. "It's in the people. You're welcomed here, no matter how you feel or how much sadness you have about yourself. It's a place you can come for peace."

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