Back to the pews Sunday services: Snowbound a week ago, elated worshipers returned yesterday to their reopened churches and spiritual "family."

January 15, 1996|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

Over the past 55 years, Paul Scott has rarely missed a Sunday service at Douglas Memorial Community Church. As a church officer, he's usually among the first to arrive and the last to leave.

So yesterday, at the first service there in two weeks, he was all smiles.

"I just missed being here so much," said Mr. Scott, breathing an audible sigh of relief.

"It was like I was just lost [last Sunday]. My family said, 'You can't go to church -- there's too much snow.' But I just felt like I should've been here."

In the aftermath of two snowfalls that left many people trapped at home for days, Mr. Scott's sentiments were echoed across the Baltimore area yesterday as thousands of people returned to houses of worship, many for the first time since the holidays.

Weary of shoveling snow, being housebound with the kids and other interruptions in their usual routines, many people said going to worship represented a stabilizing, spiritual force in an uncertain world of school cancellations, supermarket shortages and unplowed streets.

"It's like the week doesn't go as it should unless I've gone to church on Sunday," said Linda Bowie of Baltimore County, who also attends Douglas Memorial.

Many folks simply welcomed the chance to be in a crowd of people for the first time in days.

"You're asking me how it feels to be back? Wheeeee!" said Jim Schuman of Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Bolton Hill.

"This is a depressing time of year, with everything in hibernation," said Jeneanne Collins of Union Baptist Church on Druid Hill Avenue. "You need the encouragement church can give you."

While several suburban churches with large, plowed parking lots reported almost normal-size crowds, some inner-city churches without parking lots had smaller crowds than usual.

It was particularly difficult to find a parking spot in roughly a five-block area west of Park Avenue in Bolton Hill, home to some of the city's most venerable churches.

"People know how parking is a problem in this neighborhood on a Sunday when there isn't inclement weather," said Tracy McQuay of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, also on Druid Hill Avenue. "So we just learn to be flexible in bad weather."

Despite the parking problems and filled sidewalks, most inner-city churchgoers seemed jubilant in the bright sunshine.

They got to church in different ways: Some walked or took public transportation rather than drive, car-pooled, got friends or family members to drop them off, and some parked blocks away and hiked into church.

Some found humor or a peaceful quietness in their smaller intimate services. For example, three worshipers who were closing Brown Memorial after services laughed recalling that there were no tenors in the choir yesterday, because the snow kept them home.

Douglas Memorial, on Madison Avenue, had only one service instead of two. It drew less than a quarter of the 550 worshipers who typically attend a combined service there. Attendance was down, too, at nearby Sharp Street Memorial United Methodist Church on Etting Avenue and Union Baptist Church.

At 10,000-member Bethel AME, there was room for dozens more people in the sanctuary, where usually even the balcony is filled for Sunday services. One overflow room, where people who can't fit into the sanctuary may watch services on a video monitor, only had 10 people in it yesterday. "That room is normally packed," said Ms. McQuay.

In the suburbs, attendance was back to normal at most churches surveyed.

At Trinity Assembly of God Church in Lutherville, which has a large, plowed parking lot, there were more than the usual 1,200 people at the 10 a.m. service yesterday, said Bunk Nolan, a Trinity deacon.

"People were hungry for the Word, and we were just glad to be together as a family again," Mr. Nolan said.

Weekend masses at Church of the Resurrection, a Roman Catholic church in Ellicott City, drew a normal attendance of 3,000 or so parishioners, with sparse crowds at the early morning masses, said the Rev. Jim McGovern.

Normal attendance was also the case at Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church in Fells Point, where attendance had returned to normal after being down about 30 percent the previous Sunday.

"Many of our people are from Eastern Europe so walking in a blizzard isn't a big deal for them," said the Rev. James Miles.

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