'Roadway to God' linking churches 25 houses of worship found along highway

Route 2

September 28, 1997|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

For thousands of Anne Arundel County residents, Route 2 is the road to God.

As it winds through the county, it strings together about 25 churches. Their billboards and marquees beckon motorists with challenges: "My God! What is God?" "Dial-A-Devotion, 757-2255."

The histories of Route 2's houses of worship are varied.

John Wesley United Methodist Church at 6922 Ritchie Highway in Glen Burnie, founded in 1850, was one of the first African-American churches in North County.

The parish grew from a small gathering of free blacks and slaves who met Sundays in a church on Furnace Branch Road. The African-Americans had services after the white congregants ended theirs.

Church historians say these early parishioners saved enough money to buy a patch of farmland near the white church from the Pumphrey family, and to build a church where they didn't have to wait to pray.

Farther south, about a half-hour past Annapolis in Lothian, St. James Church on Route 2 is one of the first churches in the county -- one of 30 Episcopal parishes founded in Maryland in 1692, when the denomination was declared the colony's established religion.

"At the time, [established religion] meant a church officially recognized by the government and supported as a state institution," said Christopher N. Allan, deputy state archivist. "It wasn't compulsory; you had certain people who weren't Episcopalian. But the established church had certain civil powers, and if you weren't a practicing Episcopalian, you couldn't run for office."

Known as one of a few "10-mile churches" for the distance that tended to separate them in the 1700s, St. James Church holds many historical marks. In its tiny cemetery is the oldest dated tombstone in Maryland -- that of Anne and Christopher Birckhead, 1665. In 1698, it opened the first church lending library in the nation.

And in 1792, its seventh rector, the Rev. Thomas John Claggett, became the first bishop of Maryland -- the first Episcopal bishop consecrated on U.S. soil.

More important are the morsels of church history that remain a part of its 400-member congregation's worship today. The church's red-brick structure dates to 1765, when it replaced the original building. Its stained-glass windows reflect the history of its early parishioners, depicting tobacco farmers and fishermen.

Although central heating was installed in the 1950s, the church still has the original enclosed pews with doors to keep in the heat.

"[Parishioners] would bring in canisters of hot coal, and place them on the floor to keep their feet warm," said the Rev. William Ticknor, the church rector. "The doors prevent drafts."

The church was strict in those days. A whipping post was built in the 1700s to punish county residents who refused to support the running of the church with pounds of tobacco each year.

St. James also had stocks, which were regarded as "valuable for church discipline," according to "Church Life in Colonial Maryland," a book about the church written in 1885.

"In 1765, the rule was made by the vestry that persons intruding into pews belonging to others and refusing to withdraw, should be put in the stocks," the book says.

The church rebuilt a model of the old stocks when it celebrated its 300th anniversary in 1992.

Renee Wilson, who has attended St. James with her family for 20 years, said she's glad her four daughters have grown up surrounded by such a rich history.

"There's a lot of faith here, and it's been here since the 1700s," said Wilson of Friendship. "It goes back generations. It makes [church] more significant just to know that my husband's ancestors came here and loved the church as much as I do.

"It teaches my children about heritage, family and how God plays a part in our family," Wilson said.

Ticknor said the church's deep roots also make parishioners feel a sense of permanence.

"When you're in a church that has been here for 300 years," Ticknor said, "you know we're going to be here for 300 more years."

Pub Date: 9/28/97

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