Churches unite to renew faith

City Baptist congregations from east, west come together for annual revival

October 15, 2007|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,Sun reporter

Thousands of Baltimore residents gather in their own churches for prayer every Sunday. But this week, members of 17 Baptist congregations will come together under one roof to reach out to lost souls, to revive their spirits and to mend rifts between East and West Baltimore.

About 1,500 people are expected to attend the 10th annual "simultaneous revival," which was launched last night with preaching, Scripture readings and gospel music at Mount Moriah Baptist Church in West Baltimore.

"It sends a message that we are united. The church is only one church, and we want to not just teach it and preach it. We want to demonstrate it," said the Rev. H. Waldon Wilson II, pastor of Israel Baptist Church in East Baltimore and president of the revival.

During the five days of the revival, members of different congregations will attend morning workshops and "noonday" worship at Faith Baptist Church in East Baltimore, then return to their own churches each night for individual services.

They'll come back together again Friday for a final Lord's Supper, or Communion, service, at Greater Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church, also in East Baltimore.

Last night, members of Mount Moriah's "courtesy guild," wearing purple blazers, warmly greeted members of different churches as they entered. Some worshipers stood to sway and clap along with engaging hymns sung by a combined choir and a smaller "praise team" from the different congregations under Mount Moriah's exposed wooden beams.

"We're trying to reach out and save lost souls as well as trying to get people who were once part of the church to return," Wilson said.

He based the idea on a similar program in Cleveland. "I thought it was such a moving and marvelous experience," Wilson said. "I brought the concept to Baltimore to unite churches, to unite pastors who otherwise would not be coming together."

The organizers of the revival first started with about 500 people attending from seven East Baltimore churches. About three years ago, six West Baltimore congregations joined the program.

"They sensed the need for East and West to come together," Wilson said. "We are supposed to be one in Christ. Christ unites - he doesn't divide."

The rivalries are "something that's done great harm in our city," he said.

The Rev. Hoffman F. Brown III of Wayland Baptist Church in West Baltimore said he's not sure of the origin of the chasm between the two halves of the city, though he's been a pastor for 16 years. This is his church's first year participating.

He explained that many churches express a sort of "separatist ideology." But during the revival, rather than saying "`I want to build my own little fiefdom here,' this is really kingdom-oriented," Brown said.

Each Baptist church operates autonomously, Brown said. But this revival provides an opportunity to create "a strong Christian united witness in the city," he said.

The Rev. Stephen M. Smith of Mount Moriah, which was the host of last night's service, concurred.

"The reality is, we're not in competition with each other," he said. "We're ... just a bunch of churches coming together as one church, having involvement during the week from east side and west side."

Revivals are part of the tradition of a number of Protestant denominations. Several waves of revivalism affected the course of American Christianity, with the familiar image of camp meetings usually held outdoors in the summer with invitations to enter the church.

But the Baltimore services, which are held indoors, are organized during October to get people to return to church after vacations and other distractions.

"Summer has attendance drop off," Wilson said. "People become lax and commitment drops. ... We feel as though this is a good time to get people pumped up."

Shirley Archie of Ray of Hope Baptist Church in Northeast Baltimore was one of those who crossed town last night to worship with others.

"It's nice to know there's others in your faith that feel the same way you do," she said. "You come together as one. There's no difference, there's no separate church because of name. It's all for one cause."

She's working this week and doesn't think she'll be able to attend the noon services, but she plans to set aside time for prayer regardless.

Ray of Hope was one of the original churches to participate in the revival, she said.

"It's for a spiritual growth ... just to be renewed with a lot of other Christians, to know we can make a difference in what's going on in our city and our country and in the world, actually," Archie said. "We believe prayer can change that."

Kim Burden of St. Paul Community Baptist Church on Federal Street said she has received blessings every year she has attended the simultaneous revival.

"I get to fellowship with people I probably never would have met, even if it's just to say `hello' or `God bless you,'" she said.liz.kay@baltsun.com

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