Noise at church alienates new neighbors Residents irritated by active newcomers

November 12, 1997|By Melinda Rice | Melinda Rice,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

An interdenominational Protestant church moving into an old Brooklyn Park bingo hall is straining the religious tolerance of neighbors who hate the congregation's loud music, worry about the sinners it reaches out to and even have concerns that it could be a cult.

At first, residents were pleased that the old Forty-niner Bingo Hall, closed for about a decade, was getting a new owner. Church on the Rock, a 9-year-old church in Brooklyn in Baltimore City, bought the hall for $162,500 last month, and church leaders plan to spend nearly a half-million more on renovations they hope will be done by next Thanksgiving.

About 90 families belong to the church, which operates a food pantry, counseling services, a prison ministry, hospital and nursing home visitation programs, and welcomes everyone as members -- including prostitutes and drug addicts.

"You help the people that nobody wants and you end up with the people that everybody wants," said Wayne Cymek, an Anne Arundel County attorney who joined the church about a year ago with his wife, Becky.

"We love people, and we love God," said the Rev. John Krach Jr., founder and pastor of the church and an Anne Arundel County native.

But in Brooklyn Park, an aging neighborhood of retirees and middle-class families, eyebrows were raised over the church's membership and programs.

It was polite at first.

"We weren't happy about the church, but we were willing to wait and see what happened," said Frances Jones, a Brooklyn Park resident for more than 50 years and president of the Arundel Improvement Association for 17 years.

Then came "The Night of the Racket" on Oct. 13, the day the church closed on its new property and church members began a weeklong revival that resulted in two calls to the county police and a flood of complaints to elected officials.

"It was so loud the windows were rattling," said Jacki Dvorak, who lives across the street from the old bingo hall with her husband and three children. She couldn't hear her TV, she said.

"I don't know what they were thinking making all that racket," said Jones. "Their attitude was not that of a peaceful people. They were very antagonistic."

Dvorak, whose husband is studying to be a Baptist minister, considers herself a devout Christian and was reluctant to complain. However, after almost two hours of noise she crossed the street with her teen-age son and asked church leaders to lower the volume.

"These people were out of control," she said. "They told me, 'Satan sent you here.' "

Someone called the police at 7: 34 p.m. and again at 9: 35 p.m.

Police spokeswoman Carol Frye said officers reported that the church members were cooperative, but neighborhood residents say that is not true.

After the first police visit, Priscilla Marcoccio, who lives across the street, said she could hear the evangelist inside declaring that people in the neighborhood called police because they were not Christians and did not want the neighborhood cleaned up.

"You don't bad-mouth the community you're coming in to serve," said Marcoccio, who is a Lutheran.

Residents say they've never had any trouble with members of other churches, including the Methodist, Roman Catholic and Jehovah's Witnesses churches all within several miles of the new Church on the Rock.

"I don't think it was in their best interests to get off on that kind of foot with the neighbors. They're going to have a hard time convincing the community that they'll be good neighbors now," said state Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, a Democrat representing the 31st District, whose office received numerous calls about the revival. Among his callers were people who live more than a mile from the church who said the music bothered them.

"We went overboard that night and I'm sorry," said Krach, who went door-to-door the next day apologizing to Brooklyn Park residents.

"I thought it was probably a very difficult thing to do," said Marcoccio, who appreciated Krach's gesture but remains, like many residents, wary of the church.

Among fears about the church that are voiced in the neighborhood, all of which are denied by the church's pastor:

Church members might petition the state to close nearby liquor stores and bars.

The church might open a homeless shelter, soup kitchen or drug rehabilitation clinic in the bingo hall.

Members might knock on doors pressing residents to join the church.

Krach said that some members of his congregation may be opposed to establishments that sell alcohol, but the church itself has no intention of targeting the nearby Village Liquors or the Dove's Nest.

As far as the old bingo hall, plans prepared by KCM Architects show the 10,571-square-foot building divided into a sanctuary, three classrooms, offices and bathrooms.

Krach said Church on the Rock will leave its school, food pantry and most of its mission work at its Patapsco Avenue and Hanover Street site in Brooklyn.

Krach said the church does not seek new members door-to-door, though he hopes the church's new location will attract new members from the neighborhood.

"I'm not anti-religious by any means, but our community does not want anyone harassing them about going to any church," said Jones, the community association president.

"I have informed them I do not believe they are a Christian church. They act more like a cult," she said.

That characterization offends Krach, and he is not turning the other cheek -- he's turning to his lawyer.

"People need to be very careful," he said. "If there's anything said against the organization, someone's going to be liable."

"They came into the neighborhood swinging," countered Robert Marcoccio, husband of Priscilla. "They seem to think they've got God on their side and no law of man can get in their way."

Pub Date: 11/12/97

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