Plans alter concept of interfaith center

Congregations' campus slated to open next year


September 10, 2004|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Columbia's interfaith centers are symbols of the planned community's ideals of diversity and tolerance - members of different religions sharing a worship space under one roof.

But in Kings Contrivance, two churches - the Orthodox Church of St. Matthew and the Cornerstone Community Church of God - are stretching that philosophy by constructing two buildings next to each other to create an interfaith campus that should open next year.

The church leaders say the separation is for practical reasons. St. Matthew is adorned with religious icons that cannot be removed to accommodate other religious services, and the Cornerstone Community Church wants its parishioners to feel a sense of ownership.

"I think that people like to have pride of ownership; they like to say, `This is my church,' like they say, `This is my home,'" said the Rev. Maxwell Ware of the Cornerstone Church. "They love God and know that really the church is ... the people of God, it's not just bricks and mortar.

"But let's face it, the building is what people see."

Columbia's four interfaith centers are part of town founder James W. Rouse's concept to bring people of different backgrounds together. About 5,000 worshipers - including Buddhists, Christians, Jews and Muslims - attend services at the centers weekly.

The Kings Contrivance campus is under construction while another center is being built in River Hill. They will be the last centers in Columbia; others are in Long Reach, Wilde Lake, Oakland Mills and Owen Brown.

The Cornerstone building, on Eden Brook Drive near the Kings Contrivance Village Center, is slated to be completed by Easter. Ware said his church - whose 120 members now meet at Amherst House - may lease some space to other groups.

St. Matthew is in the process of obtaining building permits, with hopes of beginning construction in the fall that will be completed within a year, said its pastor, the Rev. Ray Velencia.

He said a campus is a more suitable environment for his 300-member congregation, which meets at Slayton House, because its worship space should be furnished with icons depicting Christ, Mary and angels that can't be removed from the walls or ceiling.

"The interior is richly appointed, and it's not superficial for us," Velencia said, adding that the building will have classrooms that other groups could rent.

"It has everything to do with our understanding of what we do when we worship," he said.

The two 12,600-square-foot buildings will share a parking lot and will be connected by a small building - an attempt to hold true to Rouse's vision of congregations under one roof.

"I still see it as an interfaith center, in just a different style," said George W. Martin, chairman of Columbia Religious Facilities Corp., which facilitates the land used for the centers.

The church leaders say they are adhering to the intent of interfaith centers by planning to participate together in events and forming a board of directors with members from both congregations.

"The fact that you have two separate buildings does not in any way negate the true interfaith spirit, which is dialogue and service with the two communities," Velencia said.

Martin said congregations typically stay about 25 years at interfaith centers. Some have moved out to make their own homes.

Temple Isaiah left the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center and moved into its new temple in Fulton. St. John's Baptist Church moved out of the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center and is planning to construct a building in Ellicott City.

Ware said that shows congregations can grow out of their need to be in an interfaith center and thrive alone, proving that Rouse's original idea can evolve.

"I think that the concept that Mr. Rouse had was good, but you know it could be modified," he said. "I think that every vision can be updated."

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