The congregation of St. Paul Praise and Worship Center: People of the United Methodist Church is settled and thriving at its new Pikesville home.
But the former Baltimore City church had a number of obstacles to overcome during the transition to the vacant Ames-Sudbrook United Methodist Church at 501 Reisterstown Road.
At a recent Sunday service, the Rev. Denise Norfleet Walker walked along the rows between pews, delivering her sermon about the church’s recent trials. "We're blessed that God gave us this building, and that we didn't suffer any damage from Hurricane Irene," she said.
About 75 people in attendance rose and held hands in prayer. The church band and choir then led the congregation in high-spirited praise.
The celebratory Sunday service was one of many already held at St. Paul’s new building—the former site of Ames-Sudbrook United Methodist Church.
The 136-member St. Paul congregation moved there after closing its former Baltimore church in December. Pipes had burst there, causing excessive damage, according to a story in UM Connection, a publication of the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church, headquartered in Columbia, Md.
The Baltimore building, at 1000 W. Saratoga St., would have cost up to $4 million to bring up to code, Walker said.
But moving to the vacant, former Ames-Sudbrook United Methodist Church location turned out to be a better option for the congregation, known then as St. Paul United Methodist Church.
"The conference transferred St. Paul to the (Ames-Sudbrook) church at no cost," said conference Superintendent Anthony C. Hunt.
Conference leaders had voted Nov. 2009 to close Ames-Sudbrook because "The church congregation had gotten to the place where there were eight active members," he said.
After conference leaders gave the St. Paul congregation the option to transfer to Pikesville, the congregation accepted.
The big move
"It took some planning,” said Stephanie Nichols, St. Paul layspeaker and organizing committee member. “We discussed what the benefits of moving would be, not only to our church, but to the community and conference.”
Finally, in January, St. Paul began services at its new Pikesville home. And on Jun. 12, members of the church and conference, including Hunt, consecrated the building as the official site of St. Paul Praise and Worship Center: People of the United Methodist Church.
Interestingly, the consecration service was unintentionally scheduled on Pentecost Sunday. “We didn’t realize it, but Jun. 12 was the day of Pentecost, when the United Methodist church originally began, so it was a very special day all around,” Walker said.
Commited to community
Walker said it's St. Paul’s focus on community events that will help the congregation grow.
For example, it hosts Sisters Helping Sisters, a ministry that supports women recovering from drug abuse, and Creative Thinkers, a tutoring program to improve young students’ reading skills.
A July flea market drew crowds from throughout Pikesville, and the church plans future works with Pikesville area schools and churches.
“Even while we were going through the long process (of moving) we knew we still had to take care of the community. When we moved here, all we wanted was a place to worship, but we got an excellent building that’s been allowing us to grow and give back," Walker said.
Members of the church also organize carpools to provide transportation to Pikesville for its members who live in Baltimore.
Growing in faith
Still, the congregation has lost some members along the way.
“Unfortunately we did lose a few members because of the ties they had to that building,” said Nichols. “But we’ve also had a lot of people from the [Pikesville] area come to Sunday services, happy to see the church is open again.”
It was a heart-rending transition from Saratoga Street to Reisterstown Road. But St. Paul members say they are ready to proceed.
“It was difficult, even for me,” Nichols said. “I got married in that church, I baptized my kids there. But this process and the way we’ve been embraced has shown me that the church is more in us—it’s not the building itself.”