Start-up of Elkridge church seemed to be a divine orchestration

Neighbors

July 26, 1999|By Sally Voris | Sally Voris,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

UNEXPECTED BLENDS of old and new, sacred and profane, are juxtaposed often in Elkridge. And many times a personal connection between those elements sustains meaning in our community life.

The stories of three men, Rick Bowers of Columbia and Elkridge residents Carmelo Torres and Gary Kaufman, illustrate how those intertwining relationships work. The three are nurturing a new church.

Bowers, a Howard County native, decided at midlife to begin a church in Elkridge. Torres, raised in the Bronx, N.Y., who moved to Elkridge three years ago, was drawn to the church and now serves as its youth minister.

Community leader and businessman Kaufman offered worship space and arranged for them to use an area in his former funeral home for fellowship on Wednesday evenings.

Over the past 10 months, the church has grown from three to 30 members.

Bowers, who grew up in the area around Old Montgomery Road and Route 108, felt called to be a minister when he was 17, but did not act on the calling.

He graduated from Howard High School in 1975, got married and worked at a variety of sales jobs. He won awards, pens and watches, he said, but was never satisfied with his work. He took correspondence courses from Berean University in Springfield, Mo., and became a licensed minister.

Last year, he and his wife, Sheryle Bowers, felt they were called to start a church in Elkridge, he said. They attended a service in the Rock City Church in Baltimore with Mary Spio, a Savage resident who regularly attended a Pentecostal church with them in Savage.

During the service, Bowers said, each had a sense that God was directing them to start a church in Elkridge. They named the church the Living Stone House of Worship and set out to start a nondenominational, charismatic church.

Early Christians didn't have a lot of education, Bowers said -- they had faith. "We believe in the church of the first century," he said, a church that focuses on building a "direct relationship with the Lord."

"We live in a county which is affluent and where many enjoy excess," he said, "but we also have a lot of working poor." The church welcomes everyone, he said.

The church needed a place to meet. He was "led by the spirit" to Kaufman, who serves as one of five members of the Howard County Planning Board.

Kaufman has been active in civic and community affairs since he moved to Elkridge after he married his wife, Judy, at the Melville Methodist Chapel on Furnace Avenue in 1973.

He had worked for Hubbard Funeral Home since high school. The couple decided to open their own funeral home and planned to purchase one. When the plan fell through, Kaufman was out of work.

In the early 1980s, he and his wife sold the family car and bought a hearse and a pager, he said. After regular business hours, he began transporting those who died at area hospitals to funeral homes.

Judy Kaufman spotted a stately historic home for sale at the corner of Main Street and Furnace Avenue. The house, built in the 1840s, had been home to John F. O'Malley, a friend to Albert C. Ritchie, Maryland's governor from 1920 to 1935. Judy Kaufman thought it would make a good funeral home. They bought the property and began remodeling it.

For the next decade, the Kaufmans ran the only funeral home in Elkridge. They built a wing onto the original home in 1990, sold the building to SCI International, a corporation that owns cemeteries and funeral homes, and lent their name to the new funeral home that SCI opened in Meadowridge Memorial Park. SCI later developed the former Kaufman funeral home into the Life Celebration Center.

Kaufman, a longtime member of the Melville Methodist Chapel, showed Bowers all the churches in Elkridge. After the tour, Kaufman offered to let Bowers use the Vermillion Chapel at the funeral home in the Meadowridge park, which the Kaufmans managed.

Kaufman named the chapel for Richard Vermillion, the first person he laid out in the funeral home on Main Street. He had received a telephone call from Katherine Vermillion, a fellow parishioner at Melville Chapel. Her husband, Richard, had just died.

Richard Vermillion had lived his whole life in Elkridge, and she wanted his service at the Kaufmans' new funeral home. She offered to lend him her furniture so he could hold the service at his building.

In two days, Kaufman had drapes and plumbing installed, rented furniture and had the grounds landscaped. "By 2 p.m. we had the place ready," said Kaufman, and "200 people came through to see Richard." That was Aug. 6, 1984.

Kaufman buried Katherine Vermillion last year.

On Sept. 20, 1998, Bowers made arrangements to see the Vermillion Chapel. Before he went, he and his wife distributed a flier at the local Super Fresh about church services to be held there. They did not expect anyone to respond until Sept. 27.

That morning, Torres saw the flier and went to the chapel. He and the Bowerses held a spontaneous service.

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