Church that thinks 'large' is building an addition

January 26, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writer

It was built more than 70 years ago by the descendants of slaves, who dug the basement with scoops and hauled dirt away by mule.

Now, a front-end loader is excavating for an addition to John Wesley United Methodist Church that will dwarf the original brick chapel.

"Although we are small in numbers here, we think large," said the Rev. Tim West, pastor of the 150-congregant church on a 7-acre knoll between Ritchie and Crain highways in north Glen Burnie.

And large it is. The sanctuary, built in 1923, is about 2,200 square feet. The single-story addition is about 6,000 square feet, said builder Albert Marani of A. R. Marani Inc. in Baltimore. It will include a fellowship hall, offices, bathrooms, a conference room, a kitchen and a large outdoor terrace.

By the time the odd-shaped wing is finished this spring, this small congregation wants to make the church a gathering place for the community, said George Gaither of Pasadena, the church's historian and business manager. Mr. West hopes to invite TV talk show host Montel Williams, who was a Boy Scout at the church, to speak at the opening of the addition.

The new wing -- originally conceived of as a box-like ell in 1985 -- was designed as a more intricate addition by Lee-Warner Architects Inc. of Annapolis. It takes advantage of the hillside by angling toward the church's historic cemetery, preserves the view of the entrance to the brick chapel and leaves standing a much-adored sycamore tree that is at least as old as the church.

Though the church has a Ritchie Highway address and a driveway onto that road, the entrance is on the Crain Highway side -- near streets named for families that lived in what was then a truck farm area more than a century ago, families that helped start the predominantly black congregation in the days of slavery by meeting at night in a white church. Around 1900, the congregation built a frame church, and members did much of the work on the existing brick building themselves to keep it affordable.

Updating the structure started in 1979, when parishioners decided the building, which cost $14,256.16 including the pews, needed work, from the cramped basement to the cracked ceiling.

The chapel was air-conditioned and insulated, its cracked walls and ceiling repaired, the stained-glass windows restored and the beaded-board wainscoting refinished. But, it became clear that an addition be would be less of a luxury.

Architects have designed the social hall to allow for later inclusion of room dividers so the space can be used for several purposes, from wedding receptions to flea markets to classrooms.

Mr. West said the church, home to six generations in some black families, has begun to draw young adults who have moved to the area and want a family-like atmosphere that combines the spiritual with the social. Being able to have more social activities and Bible study at the church appeals to many.

Congregants have pledged to retire the loan of nearly $500,000. Though the loan has a 15-year term, the church would like to pay it off in half the time and perhaps initiate another project, Mr. West said.

Sunday services that brought fewer than 100 to worship a year ago are attracting as many as 140 now.

"Now that the church is growing, there is a surge of new members willing to work," Mr. West said. "Instead of being something to accommodate, [the addition] is something that is a necessity."

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