Rancher is envisioned as a house of worship

Planning Board gives nod to congregation

Fulton

March 08, 2002|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Good Hope Reformed Presbyterian Church was looking for a home in Howard County and got a house in the bargain.

A residential developer might have torn down the brick rancher to start anew on the 10-acre Fulton parcel. But leaders of the Montgomery County congregation envision it transformed into the permanent sanctuary they've never had.

"It'll be a nice little country church," said Jack Waller, pastor of the 10-year-old Good Hope, which for most of its life has met at Briggs Chaney Middle School in Silver Spring.

The church needs authorization from the Howard County Board of Appeals for its 125-seat proposal, but leaders got a good review from the Planning Board yesterday.

"That's a way for a congregation that's growing to get their foot in the door," said Joan Lancos, chairwoman of the Planning Board, which is recommending approval.

Howard County is in a sustained building boom by religious institutions as religious leaders try to keep up with the number of people moving into new homes.

Nearly two dozen congregations have moved to the county or formed here in the past few years, bringing the total to about 250, said George W. Martin, president of Columbia Cooperative Ministry.

Also, many established churches have come to the Department of Planning and Zoning with proposals for additions and bigger parking lots.

Turning a house into a house of worship, however, is something few are doing, Martin said.

But Lancos lives near one example: Ahavas Israel in Columbia. "They held services in the family room for a period of time," she said.

Good Hope's house is on Route 216, near Fulton Estates Court. Waller said the rancher, with one story above ground and a large, finished basement, seems the right size for his congregation of about 90 people.

It just needs work.

The church's plans call for the interior walls to be removed and the roof replaced, Waller said. The 8-foot ceilings are inadequate for the congregation, he said. Builders also would attach a vestibule to the front and revamp the facade to suggest religious instead of residential.

Southern Howard has "some charming country churches," Waller said, and Good Hope wants to join that crowd.

The pastor and his flock are excited by the idea of space of their own, where they won't have the weekly ritual necessary at a school: Drag out the hymnals, Bibles, nursery equipment, pulpit, piano and sound system - and put them all back after the service.

The place they want to call home is already connected to religion, though by a circuitous route. When Howard County entrepreneur Vernon Brown died in 1997, he left the house and its 10 acres to his church - Emmanuel United Methodist in Scaggsville.

"We really wanted to sell to a church; we didn't want to sell to a developer," said Pastor Vicky Starnes. Eventually, Waller said, Good Hope would like to replace the ranch house with a church that seats 300, and the congregation also wants to have a multipurpose building.

To Waller, that's in the foggy future. Maybe in 10 years.

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