Local church's doors open to many community groups


July 19, 1999|By Sally Voris | Sally Voris,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ON A SERENE HILL just off Route 99, Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church has become a quietly happening place.

Located on a 7-acre parcel, the church building has a sanctuary, a fellowship hall and an education wing. The property includes Hebron House -- the original stone farmhouse that was Historic Ellicott City's decorator show house in 1996 -- and an outdoor amphitheater.

Surrounded by lawns and mature trees, Mount Hebron Presbyterian was incorporated in 1960 by 58 charter members. The congregation has grown to 215.

Five of the charter members -- H. J. Baker and his wife, Loudelle, H. J.'s brother Franklin, Georgie Morrison and Jeannie Sims -- still attend.

"We have a good mix, " says the Rev. Sidney J. Venable III, who prefers to be called Sid. Most of the members live within five miles, though some come from the retirement community of Charlestown in Catonsville and others from Columbia.

The church has welcomed community groups into its facilities under Venable's 16-year leadership. A nursery school, summer band camp, dance classes, 4-H group, Girl Scout troop and support groups are finding a home in its stone buildings and on its spacious lawns.

"We've got room, and we're glad to provide space," says Venable, adding that the church space is used about 80 percent of the time by community groups.

The land had been a dairy farm. In 1959, the Baker family sold 7 acres of their 492-acre farm to the Presbytery as a site for the church. Franklin Baker and his wife, Lois, lived upstairs in the farmhouse while the congregation held services on the first floor, until the sanctuary was built in 1964.

The Bakers built houses on the rest of the farm, part of which became Mount Hebron. They kept the farm buildings. From the parking lot of the church, one can see a stone barn, an equipment shed and several wooden buildings.

H. J. (Harmon Jones Baker) still plants sweet corn, pole beans, squash, sunflowers, tomatoes and pumpkins.

White, fiery-red and tangerine-colored gladiolas accent one of the garden's borders.

Franklin Baker is proud of the church, especially the nursery school that he says is "one of the best in the county."

The school offers two-, three- and five-day programs for 210 children ages 3 to 5 during the school year.

A welcoming atmosphere

This summer the church has rented space to a camp sponsored by the Music and Arts Center at Chatham Mall.

Public school teachers David Smith and Kendall Davis have directed the summer camp for the past five years.

Smith says Venable has created a welcoming atmosphere for the young musicians.

"Not everyone likes to have 100 kids playing musical instruments in their building," he says.

Smith teaches at Mayfield Woods Middle School. He started the camp so Howard County kids would have a place to play music in the summer, and recruited Davis, a band teacher at Pointers Run Elementary School.

Smith says the camp is exciting. Students practice together for 10 days and then give a concert. Expectations for bands in Howard County are high and audiences are discriminating, Smith says. Bringing the young musicians to performance level in so short a time is a challenge.

After graduating from the University of Maryland, he went to Los Angeles where he worked as a "full-fledged gigging musician" for 15 years.

"We don't look at this as day care, but as enrichment," says Davis, who chuckles as he described how hard he makes the kids work.

"We hope our students will take something a little extra back to school with them," he adds.

Last Thursday, as 21 students practiced jazz in Classroom 3, where preschoolers attend Sunday school, the band broke into a number that exploded from the painted cinder-block walls.

Two soloists played in cramped quarters at the front of the room. The room was packed so full that the trombone played by Elkridge resident David Craig, 15, came within 6 inches of the front wall. Tenor sax Evan Burke, 14, held his sax close as he played to avoid hitting a nearby bulletin board.

Ellicott City is well represented among band campers: Crosby Tencher, Brandon Sandosky, Matt Curtin, Russ Osborn, Jim Abshire, Mike Trexler, John Pullen, Jeremy Abel, Evan Burke, Jessica Engler, Karl Petre, Paul Concannon, Amanda Aaron and Matt Anderson are in the group.

Band members say they've learned a lot in the two-weekcamp.

Drummer Jeremy Abel says he learned that he plays too loudly and that others make mistakes.

Amanda Aaron learned to practice troublesome passages of music again, and Crosby Tencher says he learned about different styles of jazz.

Coaching the band after an improvisational jazz piece, Smith told them that the real art is in "knowing when you have gone long enough."

The students listened attentively.

On Friday, the camp's ensembles performed in a concert outside the church under a large oak tree.

Parents were invited to bring a "picnic everything," Smith says -- blankets, food, chairs and drinks.

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