Encouraging vocal participation

Music: At St. John Baptist Church, singing helps reinforce the lessons of the service, and noise is viewed as a sign of life.

July 12, 2002|By Jean Leslie | Jean Leslie,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Spirited speakers, singers and parishioners create a sense of joy and celebration as part of St. John the Evangelist Baptist Church's mission to celebrate God's presence. The service demands active participation of the congregation: Members clap and sway to the music, and affirm the words of speakers with "Amen" or "Yes."

"The Lord has given us a beautiful day," said Jill Snell, a member of the prayer and praise team, as she opened Sunday's service at the Columbia church.

The Gospel Choir continued the service by swinging into a joyful, hand-clapping rendition of "Glory to His Name," followed by two solo renditions of testimonial hymns.

"We worship with call and response," says the Rev. Robert A.F. Turner, the pastor. "While some churches frown on children making noise in the worship service, I see it as a positive sign that there is life in the church. The culture I'm trying to create is that you're welcome when your child is crying and the infant is also welcome."

Music and singing form the backbone of the service.

"We have five choirs, and each choir serves a particular ministry for a service that we have. But we don't emphasize one form over another," says Asa Lee, director of the Ministry of Music. "We reinforce the word."

For example, there is the Cathedral Choir, which sings traditional church music, and the contemporary Voices of Inspiration Choir. Backed by electric guitars and percussion instruments, Voices of Inspiration provides the music on the third Sunday of each month, Youth Sunday, when young people take roles in the service and the music is contemporary.

"We capture the attention of a young person in a different way from the other Sundays," says Lee, who adds that a drama ministry and dance ministry also perform to bring the word to life visually.

The service is in a large sanctuary lacking the usual church accoutrements - its lighting is fluorescent and it is bereft of pews, stained glass or a permanent altar.

St. John Baptist is housed in temporary quarters while the church prepares for a permanent home at Marriottsville Road and U.S. 40. A model of the new worship center graces the lobby. Plans are to break ground in March.

St. John's mission is also to incorporate and care for God's family with its Membership Cluster Ministry. Groups of eight to 15 people meet each week for 1 1/2 hours to share stories, learn the Bible, review the sermon and perform service. The clusters also reach out to others. Members are welcome to include friends, neighbors and relatives.

"It's an opportunity for people to feel connected and for a large church to have a small-church feel," Turner says.

"The caring is something we hear about from our members a lot," says the Rev. Ostein Truitt, who leads the Deacon Board. Truitt, who is attending divinity school, is the first woman to serve as chairman. The church has 10 deacons, with three more to be ordained Sunday.

St. John Baptist holds events to welcome the community into its fellowship. "We hope that people who are not members will participate in our activities," Truitt says. "We'd like the community to see the benefits of having a personal relationship with God."

The church is also growing, having more than doubled its size since 1998. Some parishioners travel from Bowie, Silver Spring and Owings Mills for the services.

"We have a wonderful cross-section in terms of age and economics," Turner says. "We have been able to grow ... because of a clear sense of who we are and where we are going - through a spirit of celebration, through worship services and through a sense of caring in the congregation," he says.

St. John Church has scheduled the following events: From 10 a.m. to noon tomorrow, member Bruce Merrick will lead a seminar on depression. Information and registration: 410-992-6977. Also this month, St. John will celebrate the fellowship and spirituality of its men. Fellowship activities include a Fishing Extravaganza from 5 p.m. to midnight Wednesday: 443-538-4601; and a golf outing at 9 a.m. July 26: 301-596-1884, Ext. 10. Men's Day will be held July 28.

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