Rural church reaches out to neighbors

Growth: Trinity Episcopal Church in Howard County is expanding, partly, members say, to provide more room to allow the use of its space by the community.

September 07, 2001|By Diane Reynolds | Diane Reynolds,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Trinity Episcopal Church, built a century before the strip malls and self-storage centers that grew up around it, remains what it always has been: a peaceful, country church along U.S. 1.

Yet Trinity is growing, albeit with care, recently breaking ground for a building that will help it reach out to the local community.

To walk around Trinity, built between 1857 and 1890, is to take a step back in time.

A Gothic revival church, complete with a Tudor-style tower, along with a cedar shingle parish hall and a rectory dating to 1873 sit quietly amid trees and shrubs in Waterloo.

Inside the sanctuary, history also has been preserved. A pipe organ dates to the late 1930s, the pulpit to World War I and the stained-glass windows to the 19th century.

In 1974, the church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"I've been all over the world, to the great cathedrals, to Notre Dame of Paris," says Sarah Shannon, church treasurer, "and as far as I'm concerned, the three windows in the chancel are the most gorgeous companion windows I have ever seen."

Shannon, who joined the church 68 years ago at the age of 10, says, "It's a little oasis here on Route 1. It's still a rural church. We've had a large enough acreage to continue to keep it landscaped and green in the middle of a lot of concrete."

Shannon talks of a time when church members came by horse and buggy. "The automobile makes a big difference," she says. "Now we draw from a greater radius. We're a hub."

The church, which draws members from Baltimore, Anne Arundel County, Columbia, Jessup, Elkridge, and Laurel, has been revitalized over the past eight years. Parishioners give the credit to the rector, the Rev. John S. Steiner, known as "Skip."

"What Skip has brought us is the awareness that we're all one in Christ," explains Pat Cullison. "He taught us we are the church. It makes us excited to be here."

"I love it," says longtime member Alice Cusick. "The last eight years have been better than any time I've been coming. It's Skip. He's been good to us."

Cullison describes how Steiner "was there every day" with a young trauma victim and with a 16-year-old dying of cancer.

"Skip was there constantly," she says. "He is very caring. When someone is sick, who's the first one there? Skip. It rubs off. He walks it, we feel it, and share it . That's how you get the community to be so strong."

As part of its renewed vigor, Trinity is embarking on a building project that will connect the sanctuary to the parish hall. Ground was broken for the addition on June 24, though construction has not t begun because of permit delays.

The addition will add permanent Sunday school rooms, an office, and a choir vestment room to the church.

The addition also will allow Trinity to provide meeting space to the community.

"Without outreach to the larger community, it's hard to have a sense of spirit. You get so focused on yourself," explains Steiner. "There is an opportunity for people in this area to be using this space."

Cullison hopes the new space will create more awareness of the church in the community.

"Our hardest part is trying to let people know we are here," she says. "We're on a business route. The residential people come in the back way from Columbia. Outreach is very complicated."

Despite the vitality of the church, members are happy with the small size and moderate pace of growth.

"I know just about everyone in the church," says Cullison, who organizes the Shrove Tuesday pancake supper every year. "I know Skip was looking for a small church. ... I could tell when we brought him here this is what he wanted."

Shannon says most members are reluctant to see the church grow too much.

"You have the relationship with people. It's more of a family church," she says. "Everyone knows everyone else. It has become sort of a healing church."

Steiner agrees.

"The dynamics of a small church are different from the dynamics of a larger church," he says. "Small churches can be so intimate. [But] I'd like to see it grow."

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