It's a rare occurrence when a church ceases to be the site of regular worship services, and it is even less frequent that a congregation with centuries of continuous history ends up being dispersed.
That, however, is what is happening to St. George's Spesutia Parish in Perryman, a congregation that has been in continuous operation since 1671, the same year Scottish folk hero Robert Roy MacGregor was born.
That's a long time, so long that the church sanctuary has been rebuilt twice, most recently in 1851, a decade before the start of the Civil War.
In recent years, regular Sunday attendance at the Episcopal church has dwindled to between 25 and 30 members and the congregation has been relying on guest priests to preside over services. The Episcopal Bishop for Maryland, Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, announced the decision to cease worship services at the historic worship site, saying the parish relies too heavily on investments when the collection plate doesn't bring in enough to sustain the congregation's activities.
From within the small congregation, though, there is a claim there has been a personal dispute between the bishop and a particular parishioner that has sparked the cessation of regular services at St. George's.
Sad as it is to see the end of regular services at the old parish, it is that much more disappointing that the action comes with such discord.
Other triggering factors notwithstanding, it is unlikely the leader of any organization would close a thriving and growing branch. Possibly without fully focusing on it, the bishop identified a key reason for the parish's withering: "It is simply not good stewardship to maintain this congregation in its current state, especially given its isolated location."
In 1671, Perryman and other communities within walking distance of the shores of the Chesapeake, were centers of local population. This remained a reality until roughly World War I, which also is when Aberdeen Proving Ground was established. These days, Perryman is a tiny community that's difficult to get to, and other Episcopal congregations are active in larger, more easily accessible places.
The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland isn't closing the church. Though there will no longer be regular worship services, other functions, notably a food bank, will remain. It remains to be seen what the long-term prospects are for St. George's, though there's reason to believe the congregation can be reinvigorated.
Another very old church a few miles to the west, St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Hickory, was established in 1786 (making it a relative newcomer compared to St. George's). It was a thriving congregation and gave rise to other Catholic parishes in Harford County — notably St. Mary's in Pylesville, St. Francis de Sales in Abingdon and St. John the Evangelist in Hydes — before falling on hard times in the 1960s. In recent decades, however, it is a growing congregation with many new buildings, as well as its historic core buildings.
All it takes to turn a congregation around is people with faith.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun