COLUMBIA'S INTERFAITH centers brought economic and social benefits to religious leaders and worshippers when they emerged in the early 1970s. They were another facet of Jim Rouse's plan to raise a new-age community out of farmland between Baltimore and Washington. In these centers, different congregations and denominations would co-exist under one roof, sharing assembly space and support staff.
The non-traditional, communal concept was similar in some ways to the open-space classrooms that had sprung up in area schools a few years earlier. Today, open classrooms have been derided as a failure and replaced by more traditional architecture. Meanwhile, word that two congregations are leaving the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center to worship separately may seem another sign of drift from Columbia's nontraditional town without barriers.
St. John the Evangelist Lutheran Church and St. John the Evangelist Baptist Church are ending their associations with the interfaith center. They will hold services elsewhere until they find permanent homes. The Lutheran church says the complex has become too expensive. The Baptist church says it has become too small. Whatever the reason, the departures leave the Wilde Lake site with two congregations -- a Roman Catholic church and a United Methodist/Presbyterian church.
Supporters of the interfaith concept say the fact that 10 congregations will exist at four centers even after the defections continues the concept of sharing space. But one of those complexes operates with a single, albeit large, congregation. There is little discussion of building interfaith centers in Columbia's newer villages such as Kings Contrivance and River Hill.
Congregations that have left village centers in the past have said they wanted their own buildings or, at least, more conventional atmosphere, with stained glass and religious symbols.
Perhaps interfaith campuses with separate buildings could provide individuality while retaining some benefits of the shared arrangement. Unlike the construction of gated communities, the move from interfaith centers is not a retreat from Columbia's tenets. The tug for individual houses of worship is coming more from religious values of the past than from social isolation in the present.
Pub Date: 11/03/97