During spring break: a learning experienceWhile their...


March 05, 1995|By Angela Wilson

During spring break: a learning experience

While their friends are on the sunny beaches of Florida or backpacking in Arizona, Goucher students Debbie Swartz and Berkeley Neblett will be spending their spring break at Camp Sister Spirit, a controversial women's retreat in Ovett, Miss.

The 240-acre support center for women of the South made headlines last year when residents protested because the camp was founded by a lesbian couple. Anti-gay sentiment ran so high that founders reported cases of harassment, including gunshots being fired at their property.

"It's pretty sad and disturbing that people are reacting so violently, but it's not going to dissuade me from going," says Ms. Swartz, 22, a women's studies and political science major who lives in White Marsh.

The threat of danger has left the Baltimore natives anxious about the trip, which begins March 18.

They and four other students -- including one male senior -- will find out for themselves how the town is now adapting to the

camp. "People are beginning to realize the camp is here to stay," explains Ms. Neblett, 23, a sophomore who lives in Roland Park.

After attending Camp Sister Spirit, they hope to make class presentations and write articles for campus publications about their experience.

"I hope to combat some of these hateful homophobic attitudes that are in our community," says Ms. Swartz.

But most of all, she hopes to learn something that will last through life. She says, "If I can come away feeling like I've achieved something, that it's been an intellectual experience, then it will be worth it." Even if Ken Royster's exhibition at the City Hall Courtyard Galleries contained just one photograph, the one in which two pastors are baptizing a young man in the Gunpowder River on a brilliant summer day -- "Saved, Sanctified and Filled with the Holy Spirit" -- would be worth a long visit.

Mr. Royster's powerful photographs of African-American worship experiences, primarily in Baltimore, convey a faith as solid as a rock.

For the most part, his subjects own very few material things, says Mr. Royster, who teaches photography and graphic design at Morgan State University. What they do have is "this unshakable faith."

Mr. Royster remembers serving as a junior usher in a Baltimore Baptist church. "Save, Sanctified" sprouted from his more recent observations of the proliferation of churches in Baltimore.

"Religion is touching an awful lot of peoples' lives," he says.

Mr. Royster's images, taken during a period of four years, reveal a world of storefront churches, baptismal pools, tambourines and church "nurses" standing ready to assist those overcome with spiritual emotion.

L Before photographing his subjects, Mr. Royster, 49, attended

services at Holiness, Pentecostal, Southern Baptist, Apostolic and nondenominational churches and got to know members of each church.

His effort to make subjects comfortable is clear in the way he has captured congregants in unguarded moments of rapture and meditation.

In one photo, the evangelist Pearl Wilson of Solid Rock Pentecostal church, contentedly observes the Gunpowder baptism from a beach chair. In another, an older man with a finely sculpted skull takes a breather from playing a worn washboard during Sunday services. And in another picture, a young girl, wringing wet, has a post-baptismal look of otherworldly joy.

:. The exhibition continues through March 17.

Have someone to suggest? Write to Lynda Robinson, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278; or call (410) 332-6717.

Stephanie Shapiro

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