State funds to be sought for church-run center Delegation to ask for $600,000

several lawmakers are opposed

December 11, 1997|By Jill Hudson | Jill Hudson,SUN STAFF

State delegates representing Howard County will seek state funds to build a community center sponsored by the First Baptist Church of Guilford.

They will introduce legislation in the General Assembly requesting that $600,000 be provided for the center, which will be used as an educational and recreational facility open to the public. The legislature convenes in January.

Church officials plan to match state funds with donations from church members. The center will be open to everyone in Guilford, including those who do not attend the church, says its pastor, the Rev. John L. Wright.

Wright said the church will expand its site at Oakland Mills and Guilford roads by 3 acres to include a community center and a parking lot large enough to accommodate the church's congregation.

But the church's proposal narrowly missed being killed earlier this month after several Howard delegates expressed concern that state government funds would be used to build a church-run structure.

Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a west Columbia Democrat and one of two delegates who voted against the bill, said a state-supported, church-run community center violates the fundamental constitutional principle of separation of church and state.

"I have no question that the church will use the center to do good work, and I think that it's appropriate for churches to do that kind of work," Bobo said. "But I just don't think that it's appropriate for government to support it."

Del. Shane Pendergrass, a Democrat whose east Columbia district includes Guilford, referred to the church's project as a "great concept" but opted to pass rather than vote against the center.

Five Howard delegates voted to propose the legislation.

Wright said growth in and around Guilford has been the catalyst for the church's proposed expansion.

"A church has to continue to grow with the community and to try to meet its needs," he said. "So many people don't know the impact of the the church in the community and its outreach. The church is here to serve everyone."

Pub Date: 12/11/97

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