Church opens new doors

Congregation holds first service at site on Littlestown Pike

`This is a milestone for us'

January 21, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

For 17 years, a sign posted in a barren field along Littlestown Pike promised the site was the future home of Westminster Church of Christ. The sign has long since faded, but the promise came true yesterday when the small congregation held its first service in its new home.

"We got this land in 1985 and considered it a blessing," said Gary D. Pearson, evangelist to the 147-member congregation. "We have waited a long time, and we can finally cross `future' off that old sign out there."

It took years of passing the collection plate while meeting in a building that resembles a house more than a church before the congregation raised enough money to start construction in August. Within five months, the $600,000 brick-and-siding structure was ready.

Pearson's sermon yesterday took its theme from Psalms.

"The Lord teaches us to number our days in the passing of time," Pearson said. "This is a milestone for us."

The congregation began worshipping in an elementary school nearly 20 years ago and moved to a small building on Madison Street in Westminster. With the new building, it has doubled its space and increased its mortgage sixfold.

"On Madison Street, we really had the size of a house, and we were so hidden away, we had to give directions from the service station," said Pearson, 45, who has led the church since 1983.

The new church sits atop a small hill, easily visible to passers-by. It has ample parking - a feature that did not exist in the building that sat on one of Westminster's residential streets.

Polly Saywell, 79, drives from Timonium to Westminster every week to attend services with a congregation she considers her family.

She formerly worshipped with a Church of Christ congregation that met at the Towson YMCA building. She took a drive to Westminster one Sunday and found a new congregation.

Because of the family atmosphere, she said, she felt at home in the old building and was eager for the service yesterday.

"This will be the first time in a lot of years that I have gone to a brand-new church," she said.

"I am thrilled with the new church and happy to drive out there through a beautiful countryside that gets me in the mood for prayer. I will go to this church as long as I can drive. It is like a family to me."

The church has space for six classrooms, a nursery, a library and Pearson's office, which overlooks rolling hills - a view he expects to be inspiring. Plans call for a fellowship hall to be built well in the future, he said.

The structure, designed by Arbaugh Architects in Westminster, is an 80-by-80-foot square, with the entrance at one of the points instead of the middle of one side.

"We think of it as a square turned like a baseball diamond," Pearson said.

Double leaded-glass doors lead to a spacious foyer and the sanctuary, which can seat 175.

Sunlight streams through hundreds of frames of leaded glass that make up the sanctuary's large, arched windows.

"We wanted a lot of light," said Curtis Wasmer, chairman of the building committee. "Natural light is the best."

For the first time in its history, the church has a baptistery. The Churches of Christ, which number about 2.5 million members nationwide, practice spontaneous baptism by immersion. Spontaneity was difficult when the nearest baptistery was in Hanover, Pa., Pearson said.

The evangelist, the father of six, said he expected to find out how soundproof the cry room walls were yesterday.

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