Area Churches in Transition

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Govans Presbyterian Church, pictured, will merge with Brown Memorial Woodbrook Presbyterian Church.

Three well-known Protestant churches in the Baltimore area are going through transitions this fall, with one closing and the other two merging. A Jewish congregation that shares space with one of the churches is looking for a new home.
St. John’s in the Village, an Episcopal church at 3009 Greenmount Avenue in Better Waverly, will hold its last service on November 5, according to an announcement on its website.

Brown Memorial Woodbrook Presbyterian Church and Govans Presbyterian Church are planning to merge, according to church representatives. The two congregations voted on October 1 to affirm a Plan of Union between the churches.

Under the plan, the congregations will worship in Govans after the merger, with leaders of both churches serving as co-pastors, and the combined church will be called Govans Presbyterian Church. The seven-acre Woodbrook property at 6200 North Charles Street will be sold, with the proceeds going to support the merged church.

“”Pending approval by Baltimore Presbytery of the merger in November, the two congregations will begin to worship together on December 3,” the pastor of Brown Memorial Woodbrook, The Rev. Randy Clayton, wrote in a message on his church’s website after the October 1 vote.

Brown Memorial Weekday School, a preschool, and kindergarten affiliated with the church, has disclosed that it will relocate to St. Thomas Church in Owings Mills starting with the 2018-2019 school year. Brown Memorial Woodbrook also operates a community theater, the Woodbrook Players, which will continue at Govans.

The Kol HaLev congregation, which meets at Woodbrook, has a lease that expires on June 30, 2018, and has begun searching for another location, according to a representative.

The announcement about the closure of St. John’s in the Village came in a letter from The Rev. Jeffrey Hual, Priest-in-Charge, referring to a decision by the Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

“It is with immense sadness I write to inform you that Bishop Sutton has determined that St. John’s must close due to our continuing financial distress,” Hual wrote.

“In spite of immense strides this year, the financial numbers in our current situation still do not work and they will not work in the foreseeable future. In light of this reality, rather than declaring us “imperiled” and dissolving our leadership, Bishop Sutton is giving us the opportunity to participate in the decisions concerning the closure of our beloved church, in order that we might have the time and space we need to support one another as we live into this grief and uncertainty.”

The Gothic Revival church dates from 1847 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Its church bells can be heard from blocks away, and there is a cemetery on the grounds. Between now and November 5, St. John’s in the Village will hold its regular worship services on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. It will also celebrate All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day on November 1 and November 2, respectively, with services at 6:30 p.m. The final service on November 5 will be followed by a parish picnic in the backyard of the rectory.

Brown Memorial Woodbrook opened in 1960, just as new housing subdivisions were being developed along the North Charles Street corridor. It started as an offshoot of Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church on Park Avenue in Bolton Hill and became an independent congregation in 1980. In 1994, it opened a $1.5 million, 300-seat sanctuary, designed by Ziger Snead Architects. It currently has 98 members, according to a representative for the merged church.

Govans Presbyterian dates from 1844 and has 185 members. It occupies land on the west side of York Road, just south of the Senator Theatre and the Belvedere Square commercial district.

According to church representatives, the combined church will be overseen by a joint board, known as a session, consisting of an equal number of members from both congregations. The pastors, Tom Harris of Govans and Clayton of Brown Memorial Woodbrook, will serve as co-pastors.

Once the merger is complete, the Brown Memorial property will be sold. Although the last worship service at Brown Memorial will be at the end of November, representatives say the property will be in use by the pre-school and Kol HaLev until June of 2018.

Located on Charles Street across from Eddie’s grocery store and other businesses, the Woodbrook property is currently zoned for residential use, one unit per acre.

The Baltimore County Council has the authority to rezone the land for higher density commercial or residential development if legislation is introduced and approved. The land also could be acquired by another congregation and remain in use as a church and church school.

The merger is a relatively unusual case of an established congregation leaving Baltimore County and moving into the city. In some recent transitions involving North Baltimore churches, congregations either move from the city into the county or move from one city location to a location farther north.

The Lutheran Church of the Holy Comforter merged recently with the Episcopal Church of the Nativity, both along the York Road corridor, and the combined congregation now worships at the former Church of the Nativity property, which is farther north.

Brown Memorial Woodbrook has had a close relationship with Govans Presbyterian for many years. Govans Presbyterian was instrumental in the formation of Govans Ecumenical Development Corporation, the non-profit that redeveloped the former Memorial Stadium property, and Brown Memorial Woodbrook was an early member of GEDCO.

Govans and Brown Memorial Woodbrook also have been active in mission work in Haiti, and both congregations are relatively liberal in terms of their stance on social issues such as LGBT equality, with strong traditions of activism and advocacy.

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