Odenton pastor embodies true meaning of holidays WEST COUNTY -- Crofton * Odenton * Fort Meade * Gambrills

December 29, 1992|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

With only a short time to go before Christmas, the Rev. Joseph C. Rowe was trying to find a tractor-trailer.

The pastor of the Odenton Church of God was trying to help another West County church organize a trip to the county in West Virginia where he grew up and where, for the past several years, he has sent tons of clothing to needy families.

He had to finalize plans that day because he would be tied up the rest of the week with a clothing drive for a local women's shelter, finding enough food to stock a food pantry run by 12 West County churches and getting toys to needy children at the Annapolis YWCA.

But for this 58-year-old Pentecostal who has been in Odenton more than a decade, it's just another day's work.

"I am just John Q. Minister," Mr. Rowe insisted. "These are things that every other clergy person does. The fact that I get someone heat for another month is insignificant in terms of all the problems out there. But it is important to me."

His colleagues offer more praise than that, however.

"He's done a good job for Odenton," said the Rev. Harold R. Bowman, pastor of the Heritage Church of God, which is sponsoring the clothing drive to West Virginia.

Mr. Rowe argued that Americans have "the intellect and the will to make some improvements," and said that he is just "trying to make a little impact."

Some of the people who felt the impact of Mr. Rowe's work are 14 toddlers at the Annapolis YWCA, who received Christmas gifts, courtesy of the Odenton church.

Through one of his parishioners, Severn resident Jean Sexton, about 10 children from 8 to 12 years old raised $500 to buy toys for the youngsters, all of whom are under 3 years old.

For the past four years, Mr. Rowe also has been working with a group called the Christian Assistance Program -- 12 West County churches that provide one regional food pantry.

Several local ministers conceived the idea three years before that, but creating the pantry got bogged down in differences among the different denominations.

"We broke all the denominational barriers," Mr. Rowe said. "That was a major miracle. Finally everybody said to forget about everything and let's just feed the poor."

He said the pantry, located at the First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Odenton, usually is open every day, except when food runs out. At Christmas and Thanksgiving, hundreds of people stop in to get food for the holidays.

Before the regional pantry was created, every church in Odenton ran a food program. "We were working ourselves to death and getting nowhere," Mr. Rowe said.

"We are able to feed more people because we do it all together," said the Rev. Robert Hinz, pastor of the First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Odenton. "We don't end up serving the same people who might go from one church to another church to another."

He said the West County operation is not so big by city standards, but that its $26,000 budget helps get the job done.

"That's one day for Bea Gaddy," Mr. Hinz said, referring to the East Baltimore woman who runs food programs for the needy. "We're nothing like what she does every day. But we're doing something."

One of Mr. Rowe's biggest events is an annual journey to McDowell County, W.Va., a mining community in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains where poverty is pervasive.

Just before Christmas, he and Mr. Bowman, his counterpart at the Heritage Church of God in Severn, dispatched a truck carrying 10 tons of clothing to that remote county.

"It is nice to give Christmas to a community that is so much against the wall," Mr. Bowman said. "There are no jobs since the mines all closed down."

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