Addition gives old church new room to stretch out

Westminster congregation to dedicate facility today

January 23, 2000|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

For years, parishioners of Westminster's Church of the Ascension have been "slinging chairs" -- that is, moving them around in the Great Hall -- to accommodate everything from services to twice-weekly soup kitchens.

But with the opening of a ministries building, members of the Episcopalian church will be able to reserve the Great Hall for worship and move other activities, including choir practice and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, to the new Holy Cross Hall.

The congregation will dedicate the new hall and rededicate the Great Hall for worship at 4 p.m. today with a prayer service and ceremony, followed by a light supper.

Bishop Robert Ihloff will be among the attendees.

"We've been slinging chairs for about four years now, so we'll be happy to just settle down and have space set up for worship on a fairly permanent basis," said the Rev. Ronald S. Fisher.

Holy Cross Hall is named for an order of monks that worked with the North Court Street church in the 1890s. The Maryland bishop at that time apparently did not think much of religious orders and gave the monks a hard time, Fisher said. When they had the opportunity to move to West Park, N.Y., they prayed to God in thanksgiving for their deliverance from Maryland's bishop.

The congregation long ago outgrew its space. The stone church, built in the 1840s, seats 130 people -- less than a quarter of the congregation's membership -- while Sunday morning Mass typically draws between 175 and 200 people, Fisher said.

The original church was designed by Robert Carey Long Jr., considered by some the country's first native-born architect of repute. Unlike most Long-designed churches in the region, it has not been altered.

"He did it as a cookie-cutter design, so the landscape is dotted with these little churches," Fisher said. "But they are so small that most of them have been expanded or modified over the years. The chapel is still used for small weddings and funerals and special services expected to draw fewer people."

Parishioners have welcomed the addition, which has been opening in stages since Christmas.

During construction of the hall, parishioners had to go outside to walk from the worship hall to the church office. Sunday school classrooms were scattered -- some in a building across the street, some in the historic rectory where Fisher lives. The new hall includes a room for the church's youth group, a new nursery, a room for the church's sewing group and classrooms.

"It will bring the opportunity to socialize without constantly taking down chairs," said Nancy Griesmyer, the church's lay leader. "It's nice, and it's got a lot of possibilities."

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