Simple words, humble dress

Faith: In a modest building in Jessup, a Mennonite congregation lives a life of values reminiscent of earlier times

May 18, 2001|By Diane Reynolds | Diane Reynolds,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Guilford Road Mennonite Church began in the mid 1950s, neighbors would come to draw their water from the spring in the church's yard.

Today, the spring is gone, but not the sense of simpler times. Housed in a modest brick building easily dwarfed by single-family homes of the affluent not far away, Guilford Road Mennonite Church in Jessup retains the values associated with an earlier era.

"Our whole life centers on our faith," says the Rev. Robert Rowe, the church's pastor. "We're not just Sunday Christians; we worship God every day. ... God is the center of our homes, our work, of everything we do."

Humble congregation

The church building, constructed originally of secondhand materials - from used windows to used concrete blocks to pews purchased from another congregation - is humble enough to be easily overlooked in the rush of modern life.

Hardly bigger than a small house, the sanctuary is a simple space, with off-white curtains hung at plain glass casement windows.

Rowe preaches in everyday clothes using everyday words, and, except for the caps many women wear (known as "prayer veils"), the congregation wears ordinary, workday clothes.

The church is not a hierarchy, explains Rowe, noting that he prefers to be called a pastor rather than a reverend. "We're all brothers and sisters to one another, and that's such a beautiful thing," he says.

"It's a family-oriented church," agrees Donald Sauder, church deacon and nephew of a founding pastor. "Our outreach is plain, simple gospel. I think anyone seeking a Bible-believing church would feel welcome here."

"We have a good mix of people," adds Sauder. "The congregation is integrated and has been since I started attending in 1956."

Southern roots

The roots of Guilford Road Mennonite are evangelical, dating to weekend open air services and tent meetings that began in 1953-1954. The area, now part of Jessup, was known then as "Little Tennessee" because so many residents had come from Tennessee. Many were without a church.

In 1955, the church building was completed and has been used ever since. Improvements have included the installation of restrooms, a front foyer, a basement kitchen and brick veneer to cover the original concrete block.

Rowe finds the deep roots in the community to be important to the church. "Our heart is in the community. We feel this church is for this community," he says. "We have a good rapport with everyone. I'm their pastor even if they don't darken the church. I'm just here and everybody knows that."


An important part of community outreach is a Wednesday evening boys and girls club for children ages 6 to 12 held in Rowe's garage. Twenty-two neighborhood children, not all from the church, are enrolled in the club, which was established seven years ago. Rowe, a carpenter and woodworker, supervises a craft, which is followed by a Bible story.

"The children just love it. The parents are coming to help," says Rowe. "It's a blessing." While a few of the children are troubled, Rowe attributes their problems to wider social ills.

"Parents don't always take the spiritual welfare of children seriously and that grieves me," says Rowe.

He also points to increased divorce as a part of the problem. "God's ideal for the family is that there be a mother and a father," he says.


Rowe opposes abortion and states that the Mennonite faith is "nonresistant. Our particular faith does not get involved in military conscription - the Lord told us to love our enemies, and I maintain you can't love your enemies and shoot them." However, he adds, "we don't dictate to our country."

In the end, however, people come for reasons that transcend ideology - or congregation size. "We checked out some churches and never found any others where the people are as genuine and caring as they are here," says Bob Strauss.

"We focus on individuals," says Rowe. "At this church, you're not a statistic."

Guilford Road Mennonite Church

Denomination: Mennonite

Leadership: the Rev. Robert Rowe, pastor

Size: 32 members

Location: 10140 Guilford Road, Jessup

Date founded: 1955

Phone: 301-725-0540

Worship services: 11 a.m. to noon Sunday

Children's program: Sunday school for adults and children 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Sunday

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