Several traditions, a desire to serve

August 30, 2002|By Jean Leslie | Jean Leslie,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

At the 9 a.m. Sunday service at Kittamaqundi Community church, congregation members began by singing a hymn from their childhood, "The Little Light of Mine." Recollections of childlike joy then wove a thread through the service.

The Scripture lesson was Romans 12:3, "For just as in a single human body there are many limbs and organs, so all of us, united with Christ, form one body. ... " Playing with the idea of a human body, clowns - church members in disguise - arranged people into the organs and parts of a huge human figure spontaneously drawn on the floor, to the gentle laughing of the congregation.

When the clowns decided that something - God - was missing, one produced a heart made of Christmas lights. Moving into a communion service, the congregation passed bread and wine around the circle of people, each one feeding the next in a touching, intimate sacrament.

"The members are intimately connected with each other, like family," said the Rev. Rebecca J. Stelle.

Although Stelle, the pastor, stood in the circle, she did not take a leadership role because the service, like all others, had been planned by a committee of which she is a member.

"This ministry is different from my first ministry," Stelle said. "It's shared leadership. Sharing the preaching is an opportunity for me to grow in faith."

Stelle is considered an "enabling minister," who may take a leadership role but also may be asked to be a consultant, in a style of worship dating back to Martin Luther's "priesthood of believers."

New to the church in February, Stelle is Lutheran, ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and had been an associate pastor in Minnesota when she was called to Kittamaqundi.

"It's serendipitous," she said. "I can't imagine feeling more like I am in the right place."

The nondenominational nature of the church frees it from doctrine, but it freely draws from several Protestant traditions. The hymnal is Methodist, as was the church's now-retired pastor, Jerry Goethe. People of various faith traditions form the congregation.

"Everybody brings the richness of their past churches," Stelle said.

Kittamaqundi Community, or "KC," began with the town of Columbia when a pioneering group, including Columbia's founder James W. Rouse, met first in each other's homes. They then met in the upper room of Kings Contrivance restaurant and later in Oakland Manor House, part of Columbia's incipient Town Center. In 1972, the church purchased the stone carriage house, built in 1827, that had served Oakland Manor.

"It had no windows, and what lived here was pigeons and all the associated droppings," said longtime member Jack Dunlavey.

To obtain a construction loan for the renovation, 20 families offered their homes as collateral. The congregation did much of the physical labor on the carriage house. While preparing the dirt floor for renovation, church members came across pieces of metal - nails, horseshoes, barbed wire and the like - which they discarded in the barn's corner. Dunlavey, a metal artist, gathered the pieces to forge a cross rich in its appearance and symbolism, which hangs in the worship space.

The renovation was completed for Easter Sunday 1977 and reflects its original use, as exposed beams, barn doors and intact horse stalls were recycled into the interior's design. Oliver's Carriage House is now a spacious contemporary building with soaring stone walls and several fireplaces, popular for weddings and meetings.

"The building is one way of ministry, of reaching out," Dunlavey said.

The congregation also expresses its spirituality in a significant commitment to service. "KC-ers," or Kittamaqundi congregants, donate their time to service agencies such as Christmas in April, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Howard County Hospital chaplaincy program. The church also supports at-risk kids and urban families through its many services to Agape House in Baltimore.

Each congregant belongs to a Mission Group, created from "a sense that God is asking us to do something with our lives," Dunlavey said. "We sit down to counsel and read the call. If anyone feels that call too, they'll form a Mission Group."

Seven active Mission Groups focus on concerns such as spirituality in the arts, peace and justice, listening to God and simplicity.

The church is undertaking an ambitious initiative: reading the Bible together, from front to back, in a little more than a year. Beginning next month, 50 people will read four chapters a day of the Bible, using The Grand Sweep by J. Ellsworth Kalas as a guide. The group will meet the second and fourth Wednesday of each month.

"We'll be thinking, `What does it mean to share our resources ... and to be a Christian ... and to be a community, and committed?'" Stelle said.

Kittamaqundi Community

Denomination: Nondenominational Christian

Leadership: the Rev. Rebecca Stelle

Size:15 full members; 50 to 75 worshippers on Sundays

Location: 5410 Leaf Treader Way, Columbia

Date founded: Jan. 5, 1969

Phone: 410-730-4855 or 301-596-3413

Worship services: 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Sundays

Children's programs: Sunday school at 11 a.m., ages 4 through high school; nursery for children younger than age 3 is available during the 11 a.m. service.

Web site:

Continuing education course: "Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life" begins at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 9.

Upcoming events: "Second Saturday," a rock, blues and jazz coffeehouse, is set for Oct. 12 - with the Melanie Mason Band playing electric blues-rock to traditional acoustic blues.

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