Church stays in touch with past and present

Traditional bazaar offers hot soup, joyful community

November 25, 2001|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

They carried on a local tradition yesterday down on Beason Street in Locust Point, one that has been around as long as anyone can remember.

Every year, members and friends of Christ Evangelical and Reformed Church, United Church of Christ, spend a couple of weeks making soup and getting things in order for their annual Christmas bazaar. Then, when everything is ready, the doors of what neighbors call "the little German church" are opened and the whole neighborhood stops by for a knickknack or two and a bowl of soup.

Wendy Hannon, 35, brought her daughter, Sarah, 2. They live not too far away on Fort Avenue. Hannon said she came for the soup, "and maybe Sarah could do some Christmas shopping."

"I think it tends to bring people close together because you come here and see people that you haven't seen for a while," said Hannon, who was married in the church.

The church basement, which is actually on the ground floor, was buzzing with voices yesterday morning. Old friends moved around the room, which was decked out in a Christmas theme. Garlands hung from the pillars. Plastic inflatable candy canes and a Santa Claus dangled from the ceiling fan. Merchandise tables were filled with homemade cookies and candy. Volunteers bused the tables that were set aside for dining.

In the kitchen, steam rose from several 25-gallon pots of soup warming on the old Garland stoves. The volunteers had spent the past week preparing the soup and had plenty on hand. More than 200 gallons of split pea, chicken noodle, bean, potato, beef barley and vegetable soup was ready for sale. Three trays each of bread pudding and rice pudding had been prepared. The cooks also had more than 130 pounds of dough for a fried treat they call "bow ties."

People started lining up outside Christ Evangelical at 9:30 a.m., a half-hour before the start of the sale. The fried dough treats were gone by 11:30 a.m. An hour later, the soup pots were empty. Eveline Craig, a longtime member of Christ Evangelical, said the church should clear about $2,500.

German immigrants, many of whom came ashore just around the corner on Hull Street, founded Christ Evangelical more than 100 years ago. The church sits at the foot of Decatur Street, next to the old Seamen's Mission. Sailors used to be able to get a hot meal and a warm bunk there for five cents a night. The church now uses the building for Sunday school.

Craig, 80, said the Christmas bazaar and soup sale were already a long-standing tradition when she started attending Christ Evangelical some 58 years ago.

"People before me wouldn't let you in that kitchen until you were 50 years old," she said. "But now, we'll take the help."

Locust Point and Christ Evangelical were different places years ago. Nearly 100 trucks used to rumble through the narrow streets every day, hauling freight to and from the factories along this side of the harbor. The church's sermons were once preached in German. Nowadays fewer trucks pass by, and English prevails. Still, the congregants honor their heritage by singing "Silent Night" in German on Christmas.

The sense of community remains strong. The area's three churches - Christ Evangelical, the Episcopal Church of the Redemption and the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel - have been pitching in on each other's events for years, said Craig.

"We were ecumenical before we knew what the word meant," said Craig, whose family has a long history in the area. Her father, Joseph L. Burns, was born at Fort McHenry.

The church relies on word-of-mouth and a mailing list to bring in neighbors and people from Glen Burnie, Owings Mills and other locations. Joan Ford came from Hamilton about 12:30 p.m., hoping for a bowl of soup. She had to settle for a hot dog but did not seem to mind. "I enjoy coming down here," she said.

Today, Christ Evangelical will honor another of its traditions as its members light candles in memory of those who have died in the past year - be they congregants, family, friends or people from the neighborhood.

"We got a bunch of good ladies and gents," said Elizabeth Sauble, 64. "It's an old church with nice people."

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