For 34 years, the members of Brown Memorial Woodbrook Presbyterian Church have been worshiping in "temporary" space on the church's property at Charles Street and Woodbrook Lane, waiting for the day when they can move to a permanent sanctuary.
Like many congregations that built new homes in the suburbs during the 1950s and 1960s, the worshipers at Woodbrook constructed a fellowship hall and an education and office center and waited to build a sanctuary when they could afford to do it right.
But funds were slow to materialize and as a result, the congregation has spent 34 Christmases on the upholstered vinyl chairs in the fellowship hall.
The wait will soon be over. If all goes according to plan, the 400-member congregation will move by early fall into a $2.3 million, 350-seat sanctuary that is under construction on the land set aside for it in 1960.
"The congregation has been very patient," said The Rev. Robert W. Lawrence, pastor of the church for four years and a driving force behind the expansion. "Many of the people who have been here the entire time are very, very excited" about the new building.
The delay was the result of a series of unusual circumstances related to the church's formation.
Brown Memorial Woodbrook was established in 1960 as a suburban offshoot of the Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Bolton Hill. When leaders of the Bolton Hill church realized many members were moving to the suburbs, they responded with an unusual plan: They would keep the city church open and also build a satellite just over the city line in Baltimore County, with the same minister serving both.
Dr. Lawrence said he had never heard of such an arrangement before he came to Baltimore. "The minister would preach here at the 9:30 service and go down there at 11. It was still one church, in two locations."
In 1980, the church officially split into two congregations, but even that didn't spur construction of a new sanctuary at Woodbrook. The county congregation was finally able to proceed when it received a "substantial gift" from an anonymous donor. That gift encouraged others to follow suit, and work began last year.
Architects Steve Ziger and Leigh Anne Jones of Ziger, Hoopes & Snead designed the body of the church to be a massive, handcrafted, square brick box. The roof is a delicate, hovering barrel vault that tilts upward at a 45-degree angle so the high point is above the altar. Between these two main elements will be large clerestory windows patterned with opaque enamel paint, creating a filtered light.
A 60-foot-high bell tower and spire will rise beside the sanctuary and mark the entrance to it. Inside, seating will be semicircular, with wooden pews that face the raised chancel. "We wanted to come as close to a church-in-the-round as we could," Dr. Lawrence said. "We wanted people to be able to see each other in worship and not just the backs of heads." With nine rows of seats, the space will be intimate, Mr. Ziger added.
Henry H. Lewis Contractors Inc. is general contractor. Morabito Consultants Inc. is structural engineer. Klepper Marshall King Associates of White Plains, N.Y., is acoustical engineer. The Holtkamp Organ Co. of Cleveland is organ builder. Mahan/Rykiel, Nan Paternotte, and STV/Lyon Associates are landscape consultants.
To give the sanctuary more visibility, Dr. Lawrence said, the church is planning to cut down some of the large evergreen trees that now line the Charles Street side of the property. For each tree felled, he said, the church will plant others.
Dr. Lawrence added that he believes the congregation will grow because of the new sanctuary. "It's going to take your breath away when you walk in."
Former Baltimore housing commissioner M. J. Brodie, now a senior vice president of RTKL Associates, has received the American Institute of Architects' 1994 Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture.
Mr. Brodie was recognized for his contributions to the redevelopment of Baltimore's Inner Harbor and 35 city neighborhoods, and for serving as executive director of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp. in Washington from 1984 to 1993.