Pastor, part-time banker finds goodwill returned with interest SOUTHEAST--Sykesville * Eldersburg * Gamber

February 09, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

The Rev. Larry A. Williamson works part time as a banker and 24 hours a day as a pastor. The two professions often cross propitiously.

A few years ago, as a bank manager, he deviated from policy and cashed a check as a kindness for a stranger. He said the stranger is still returning that single kindness.

"He heard me saying that I needed a church," said Mr. Williamson, whose congregation had been meeting at Sykesville Middle School.

The stranger found the pastor a church and has been keeping it warm ever since. An old wood-burning stove heats the pre-Civil War building.

"Every Saturday night, he comes and starts a fire for us," said the minister, an Ellicott City resident. "He comes back early Sunday morning to keep it going."

The congregation of Victory Tabernacle has been meeting for two years in a 130-year-old chapel on Mineral Hill Road. The fledgling group has room for many more, although the building holds fewer than 100 people.

"People enjoy the intimacy of a small church," he said.

The church began in 1991 as Praise Assembly of God, a mission of Trinity Assembly of God in Towson. It lists 40 active members.

"We are not in a numbers game and can survive with 40 or 50 people," said Mr. Williamson, 45, who was licensed as a minister three years ago. "We are doing just what God has chosen for us."

Early this year, the church started a van ministry for those with no transportation to services.

"We were looking for ways to reach the Eldersburg community, which has been growing at an incredible pace," he said. "We need to reach them where they are. All they have to do is call and we'll come to them."

The church now has two vans at its disposal. If more wheels are needed, the pastor said, members might consider a bus.

"If people want to get here, we will get them here," he said.

Recently, the congregation decided to change the church's affiliation and name.

"We felt called to be an independent church," said Mr. Williamson. "Trinity is still supporting us in guidance and prayers."

Members chose Victory Tabernacle for the new name.

"We live in the victory of what God has done for us," said the pastor. "We chose tabernacle for its historical Judaic roots."

Oakland United Methodist Church, just down the road, owns the white stone building with its original pews and stained-glass windows.

"It's part of our heritage and we would never sell it," said the Rev. Lloyd McCanna, Oakland's pastor. "We would rather have someone use it than to keep it vacant."

Mr. McCanna said the two churches meet "the different needs of different people." Their working agreement, which includes sharing the church hall, suits both congregations, he said.

"Our style of worship and approach to the ministry complement one another," said Mr. McCanna.

"God is not hung up on denominations," said Mr. Williamson. "He will dwell wherever his people gather."

The van ministry helps children and senior citizens gather, too. As the father of two children, he said he understands the time constraints that keep working parents away from church.

"Kids need to be influenced by the word of God early or we lose them," he said. "Children can affect their parents' beliefs, too."

His congregation includes one 10-year-old child who attends regularly and alone.

"She is really sold on being here," said the pastor. "Her dad came for her baptism, but he hasn't attended other services."

Mr. Williamson said the congregation tries to provide a "wholesome atmosphere" for its children.

"We emphasize the ability to pray with the children," he said. "We want them to see this church as family."

The younger members attend part of the regular service, then leave to hear the pastor's junior message.

"It's my belief that children should know their pastor as a friend, not just a figurehead," he said.

Later, the children conduct their own service with adult supervision.

As pastor, Mr. Williamson is committed to "building up each person," and encourages members to use their gifts to benefit one another.

His wife, Sharon, shares the ministry with him. And he regularly offers the pulpit to other members.

He also is planning a series of seminars. This month, he will discuss how the Bible looks at marriage and offer marriage counseling.

"This is no soapbox routine," he said. "Together, we are seeking ways to answer issues. The church is made up of people searching for answers."

He said he hopes his church grows through the example of its members. He also hopes he soon can leave his banking job and devote all his time to his ministry.

"This really is a 24-hour job," he said. "I love what I am doing, and I have a spouse who also loves the ministry and is committed to it."

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