Mega-church, mega-conflict Big plans for First Baptist Church wrongly viewed as bad for Guilford area.

March 31, 1998

THE DECISION OF the Howard County Planning Board last week to recommend approval of dramatic expansion plans for First Baptist Church of Guilford has upset some residents of nearby Oakridge. They fear creation of a mega-church will further snarl traffic on busy Oakland Mills and Guilford roads.

Expanding the church, however, is likely to be more beneficial than critics want to acknowledge. It all depends on how well people communicate from this point.

First Baptist's roots date to the turn of the century, when Guilford was a primarily African-American community of sharecroppers and agricultural workers.

The area has changed greatly since the 1950s, when Guilford Elementary was shunned by white parents. Today, the little houses that make up Guilford are surrounded by expensive town homes and single-family homes sitting on half-acre lots.

New residents are afraid that the old church is going to upset the peace and quiet by bringing in too many people to participate in services and programs for the needy and afflicted.

But First Baptist has always been a good citizen in its community. More than 20 years ago, when developers coveted land in Guilford for commercial purposes, members of First Baptist fought to preserve for residential use some of the same property new residents now call home.

The church has changed. Many of its 1,500 members live in Columbia or farther away. But it still wants to serve the surrounding neighborhood.

To do that, special efforts must be made to assure residents that this expansion won't adversely affect noise and traffic. Remarks in the heat of debate made disagreements about the expansion sound racial. That was unfortunate.

Such remarks can be overcome. There are enough good people on both sides to do that, given the right leadership. First Baptist and Guilford have shown in the past they have plenty of that to go around.

Pub Date: 3/31/98

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