New Beginnings offered by pastor in troubled area

March 30, 1998|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

The Rev. Cynthia Belt doesn't often use African storytellers and teen dancers in her services at the 140-year-old, tradition-laden Mount Tabor United Methodist Church in Crownsville, but she used both yesterday for the first service at her new church at Van Bokkelen Elementary School in Severn.

"I want people to come away with the understanding that church is not drudgery -- the gospel is not boring," said Belt, who launched New Beginnings Fellowship yesterday. "We won't be doing 'Gloria Patri' and the Apostles' Creed."

Belt, who will still be pastor of the Crownsville church, is the newest minister to move into Severn to reach out to the troubled neighborhoods along Pioneer Drive and in Meade Village. New Beginnings is the third church in two years to take up residence in a community that needs some hope.

"Pioneer City is a community that has been largely neglected both by the county and the religious leadership," said Belt, 42. "Our desire really is to be a spiritual presence in the community. If you're going to be a spiritual presence, you can't just bring in a bus and take people out, you really have to join yourself with the community, and that's what we hope to do."

Orchards on the Severn (formerly Pioneer City) and Meade Village, two low-income communities isolated in the western corner of Anne Arundel County, have been known for crime and drug problems and for a lack of services. Among the things missing are recreation facilities, regular public transportation and churches.

Some churches, such as Odenton Baptist, send buses into the communities to pick people up for church and Sunday school, but only two churches have formed within the neighborhoods and stayed -- Unity African Methodist Episcopal Zion, which began services in September 1996, and Greater Morning Star Pentecostal Church No. 4, which began services in January 1997. Both have small congregations that worship in a cramped townhouse on Pioneer Drive.

Although those churches continue to offer worship services, Bible studies, prayer services and counseling, residents say they need more.

"We're long overdue for a church in the community," said Yvonne Johnson, president of Pioneers in Action community group. "What we need is something that's going to be stable and there when people are in crisis, not just on Sunday."

Richfield resident Deborah Ay said the community might respond in larger numbers to a church that's bringing something of a congregation with it.

"I think many people will go if they see other people going," she said.

But Belt is not counting only on the members from Mount Tabor who will help with worship at New Beginnings to draw people to the school cafeteria.

She plans to take some of the method out of the one-hour Methodist service and bring in the African storyteller, teen dancers, illustrative sermons and Christian rap music to grab people's attention. She bought a set of drums just for New Beginnings' music.

"We wanted a different kind of service," she said. "It will be mostly music, sermon, some prayer and the benediction."

The goal is to let residents mold the church to fit their needs.

"I really want the community to own this church," she said. "I don't want this to be someone coming in and starting a new thing that might go away because the person goes away."

Pub Date: 3/30/98

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