Their 96-year-old church in Roland Park needed an overhaul, which meant the 600- strong congregation of St. David's Episcopal Church needed somewhere else to go.
A mile down the road in Hampden stood St. Mary's Church, bereft of its Episcopal worshippers since Christmas Eve 1999.
Yesterday morning, the churchgoers - marking the end of a half-year in the best temporary quarters they could hope for - said goodbye to the Hampden chapel and marched the mile north, eager for the first glimpse of their restored sanctuary.
"As we celebrate our return ... let us not forget it was the Lord God who provided us a place to sojourn," said the Rev. William M. Krulak, rector of St. David's Church, facing the packed pews.
More than 50 people paraded up Roland Avenue, through snow and ice, following 17- year-old James Catlin and the cross that he held high. Others went by bus. By the time the doors to St. David's opened, 302 people had gathered, singing "The Church's One Foundation."
Inside, they marveled at the newly painted walls, stenciled arches and touches of gold, part of a nearly $3 million renovation of the church to update its offices, preschool, kitchen, parish hall and music wing as well as the sanctuary.
"Today is just heaven," said Dee Alevizatos, 65, chairwoman of the fund-raising campaign and a church member for 35 years.
Staff members at the 118-parish Episcopal Diocese of Maryland can't think of any other congregation that moved to another church while its home base was renovated.
Eddie Gibbs, professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., said few are fortunate enough to find a church that is empty - let alone one of the same denomination in the same area where they can hold services.
"It can be a time of renewal and rethinking when you get out of your own physical space," Gibbs said.
For St. David's worshippers, the temporary home was particularly appropriate. Their church was founded by people from St. Mary's to serve population growth to the north, Krulak said.
"We had this return, this sense of closure, of coming back to our roots," he said.
Though its congregation disbanded, St. Mary's is having a rebirth as the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland's Hampden outreach center. For that effort, St. David's members have promised roughly $200,000 - 10 percent of what was raised for the renovations.
"Charity begins at home," Alevizatos said.