Long crowded, church plans new building

July 30, 1993|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Staff Writer

Veteran members of Mount Pisgah A.M.E. Church on Route 108 can recall the days when Sunday services at their tiny church felt more like life in an unopened sardine can.

The 70-year-old building can hold only 60 people, which meant parishioners sat shoulder-to-shoulder on the wooden pews. And because chatty members greeted each other following the packed services, they'd block others from getting to the exit.

"Once it was over, it was difficult getting out the front door," remembered Charles C. Jackson, 60, a 14-year member. "There was only one door."

Today, there are about 150 church members at the landmark all-black church, which spends about $600 monthly to hold Sunday services at Thunder Hill Elementary School on Mellenbrook Road. "As long as we can get the word of God, it's OK," said Rosie Wilson, 73, a member for 60 years.

The Rev. Ronald A. Boykin, the church's new pastor, said it's time for a new, bigger church.

Church leaders are trying to build a $1.2 million home near the present one-story, white and gray church, which sits at 8651 Route 108 in Long Reach.

It is the latest plan for expansion at the church after a series of disappointing failures that frustrated members in the 1970s and 1980s.

NB In 1976, church leaders paid $150 to the Army for an abandoned

chapel at Fort Meade. The plan was to dismantle and reassemble the 350-seat wooden chapel on a foundation on Mount Pisgah African Methodist Episcopal Church's property.

The Army chapel was moved, but it wasn't reassembled because the mover and contractor, Dwayne Flow, went bankrupt, Mr. Boykin said. The Fort Meade church rotted and Mount Pisgah lost about $33,000 in what became a five-year legal battle.

At one point, the church created two morning services to avoid the crammed conditions, but church leaders ceased the services because they separated the membership.

Mr. Boykin, 43, said he is not worried about obtaining the money to build the new 500-seat church. "It's quite doable," he said, if members agree to tithe. "With the help of God . . . all of it will come to pass."

It will take patience, commitment and endurance to make the dream a reality, the pastor said. No timetable has been established.

While they wait for the money to be raised, planners will renovate a two-story house on their 4.5-acre property into a sanctuary by November or December, Mr. Boykin said. The renovations will cost about $60,000, and the building will give members a sense of home.

Mount Pisgah began in December 1901 when a white Methodiscongregation donated its unused church on Bellow Springs Farm in Ellicott City to Mount Pisgah's trustees, according to church records. Mules pulled the donated church a half-mile away to Black Jonestown, an area where blacks settled. Several years later, a fire destroyed the building.

In September 1923, Tom Dorsey and his son Howard built the present building, which has remained a foundation for blacks in the county.

The antiquated building is aging, of course. The letters are falling off and its paint is fading.

Many church members said they remain because of the church's coziness, friendliness and warmth.

"We didn't join the church necessarily for its size, we joined because of the people who are there," said Audrey Harris, 47, of Ellicott City.

Mr. Jackson said: "I guess I remain here because . . . I love the church and it fulfills my spiritual needs."

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