Passing on the faith -- and a church, too

October 21, 1994|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writer

For the past seven years, members of Savage's Countryside Fellowship Church have been seeking a modern-day miracle -- obtaining a permanent place to worship with little money.

"Our conviction was that if God wanted us in this county, he would give us a permanent place of worship," said the Rev. Daniel Schmidt, the pastor of the 150-member congregation.

Their prayers were answered when members of Savage's Grace Christian Church -- which had just closed after a decline in membership over the past decade from a peak of 125 congregants to about 20 -- heard a new building was needed by Mr. Schmidt and his congregation and decided to donate their 120-year-old church at Baltimore Street and Cemetery Lane.

"This kind of fell into our hands out of the blue," said Chris Bentley, a two-year member of Countryside Fellowship Church. "It definitely was a miracle."

Mr. Schmidt started his nondenominational Countryside Fellowship Church with seven adults and three children in 1987, after the Cedar Ridge Community Church -- formerly of Riverdale, now in the Beltsville area -- sent him to found a new church in the Savage-North Laurel area.

Since the Countryside church began, the congregation has held most of its services in the Bollman Bridge Elementary and Patuxent Valley Middle schools in Jessup, all the while trying to raise enough money to purchase some Howard County land or a church building.

Mr. Schmidt regularly sent out notices to several local churches, saying his congregation needed a building to use for a permanent church.

Then, in July, Grace Christian Church offered its 150-seat church building, along with a small classroom building that is also on the property.

"We had come to the end of our road as a congregation," said the Rev. Melvin Larson, the former pastor of Grace Christian Church, which held its last service Oct. 9. "The congregation continued to grow older," he said. "As it grew older, some of them died, and we weren't renewing membership. We had less than 30 members at the time we closed. Most of the time we had 10."

Because of the decline in membership, Grace congregants have struggled to maintain their chapel. Termites had eaten holes in the old wooden floor joists, and water leaked through the damaged roof.

The 120-year-old church was virtually given to Grace Christian Church in the late 1950s by Grace Southern Methodist Episcopal Church, Mr. Larson said. He said he didn't know how much was paid for the church at that time.

Most of the members who attended the church then have died. But there are those such as Savage resident Doris White, who has attended the church for 30 years.

"I just couldn't let it close," she said. "We just felt like we had to keep it going."

Ms. White said she plans to worship with the new congregation when the doors reopen Oct. 30. A dedication service is scheduled for Nov. 13.

For six weeks, Mr. Schmidt and members of both churches have been repairing damaged areas of the chapel, particularly its floor joists.

Mr. Schmidt said he plans to use the basement, which was used for storage, for a nursery and classrooms. Workers are erecting partitions and positioning drywall there this week.

Workers said they also plan to cut a new opening in its bell tower, which has not worked for several years.

"It'll be kind of nice to have the bells of Savage to ring in the birth of a new church," Mr. Bentley said.

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