Church moves in 'answered prayer'
BY MELISSA LAUBER
The leaders of St. Paul UMC in Baltimore didn't realize it was Pentecost Sunday when they began to plan the deconsecration/consecration services. But on June 12, the Holy Spirit swept through the church and a renewed congregation was born.
Less than two years ago, the 136-member congregation at 1000 W. Saratoga Street was uncertain how it would survive, said the Rev. Denise Norfleet Walker. The cost of maintaining the church building, which they purchased from Emanuel German Reform Church in 1920, was draining the finances and the spirit of the members.
By one estimate, it would have cost between $2 million and $4 million just to bring the building up to code, Norfleet Walker said. "But we have a heart for ministry. We believed God still had use of us."
The congregation prayed – almost unceasingly.
In December, the Sisters Helping Sisters ministry, which works at empowering women, asked to partner with the church. A new outreach program was begun, just as pipes burst in the church. It was almost predictable, Norfleet Walker said. Amid a collapsing building, with the waters rising, the congregation felt compelled to reach out to the community.
It was that spirit of surviving amid the challenges that caused the superintendent of the Baltimore Metropolitan District, the Rev. C. Anthony Hunt, to reach out to St. Paul's members with an unusual offer.
In November 2009, Hunt had sat in the fellowship hall of Ames-Sudbrook UMC with eight members of, who unanimously voted to close their doors.
Hunt and other conference leaders believed an innovative "missional transfer," the first of its kind, could be accomplished, and offered the Ames Sudbrook building, on Reistertown Road in Pikesville, to the St. Paul congregation.
Following several conversations and a process of prayerful discernment, the St. Paul members moved into the Pikesville church in January.
On Pentecost Sunday, Hunt sat with joy sharing a meal in that same fellowship hall, now packed with St. Paul members.
The move was not always easy, Norfleet Walker said. "Some of the members' grandparents worshipped in the building in Baltimore. It held memories and traditions. We cried. Some of our members left the church, rather than move."
The mood was bittersweet, when Hunt deconsecrated the church on Pentecost morning, releasing it and all the objects it contained for any honorable use and declared that St. Paul on Saratoga Street was no longer the meeting place of a United Methodist congregation.
But a spirit of celebration descended later that afternoon when the congregation processed into their new sanctuary in Pikesville and renamed themselves the Saint Paul Praise and Worship Center: People of The United Methodist Church.
Hunt, Norfleet Walker and other church leaders consecrated the new facility in a warm and lively worship experience. "We knew God would hear our prayers," the pastor said.
For those churches going through similar tough times, Norfleet Walker holds out a hopeful note of possibility and advises, "At the most desperate times, work as if your prayer is already answered."
That morning, three youth were confirmed in the new building. One of them, Roche Johnson, said she joined the church "to get a blessing." Johnson said she likes the new church building. "It's home."