The 10th annual Blessing of the City was the first for the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation.
But the University Parkway church made its presence known in a memorable debut on Palm Sunday, which marks the beginning of Holy Week for Christians.
A contingent of 25 clergy, congregants and youth members piled out of several cars at City Hall three miles from the cathedral.
There, they joined six downtown churches to pray for the homeless, state education funding, and the well-being of a city that had more than 200 homicides last year and faces a $52 million budget shortfall this year.
And when the outdoor service ended, the Cathedral participants were just getting started. They walked the three miles up St. Paul Street back to Charles Village, handing out palm fronds along the way to passersby and people waiting at bus stops.
"It's a little bit of that pilgrimage thing," said the Very Rev. Hal Ley Hayek, dean of the cathedral.
The morning began with several homeless people sitting on benches on the plaza outside City Hall, while 60 churchgoers, most from churches in the Lafayette Square area, stood at the front door to pray for them and for other needs facing the community.
"Thank you for letting us pray for the homeless today," said Kealiel Collins, 11, of Metropolitan United Methodist, to God and the crowd. "Give the homeless their place in the world."
"Pray that we will extend a hand to those in need," said Quentin Klein-Alfano, an eighth grader at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School and a youth member of the Cathedral of the Incarnation.
Verna Jones Rodwell, one of four City Council members who joined the morning service, gave thanks for passage of a $1 billion school construction bill by the Maryland House of Delegates, and the support of General Assembly leaders.
"Make sure our students are given an optimal opportunity to learn," Rodwell prayed.
Also attending were City Council President Bernard C. Jack Young and Councilmen Pete Welch and Brandon Scott.
"We govern from the secular, but our ministers govern from the divine," said Welch, who represents the Lafayette Square area.
Other participating churches included St. James Episcopal, which organized the service, Enon Baptist, Macedonia Baptist, St. John A.M.E. and Greater Immanuel Faith Temple.
Organizers are trying to get more churches around the city to participate, said spokeswoman Allison Robinson, whose husband, the Rev. Allen Robinson, is rector of St. James.
"We would like to be embraced by all churches. That's a long-range goal," Allison Robinson said.
Cathedral of the Incarnation, seat of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, did its part to broaden the participation.
"As followers of Jesus, we need to care about our city," Hayek said.
"I think it's important to be part of something bigger," said Hadley Adams, a Roland Park resident, who came with her son, Aidan, 12, and her daughter, Rowan, 9.
"The city needs prayer at the center of the city, because of the violence and lack of education," said Enon Baptist member LaTonya Summerville, of Pikesville, who came with her husband, Louis, and their daughter, Lyric, 1.
"We just need the city to understand that people care and want the city to be glorious," said LaRissa Wise, also a member of Enon Baptist.
It made sense for congregants from the cathedral to participate, because, "Our initiatives have been all over the city," said David Koch, of Roland Park, who came with his wife, Ann, and their son, Julian, a seventh grader at the Mount Washington School.
Ministers crowded around the door to City Hall, where they prayed for all who enter its doors.
"We pray for the people of the city, especially its children," said the Rev. Canon Sara Shisler Goff, of the cathedral. "Together, we are stronger than we are apart."
After the service, participants walked around City Hall in a processional, and then to the War Memorial building, where a homeless man stood alone at the top of the steps, near the doors.
St. James member Howard Easley, of northeast Baltimore, walked up the steps and handed the man a palm frond.
"God bless," Easley said.
As the crowd dispersed, the contingent from the cathedral began its trek up St. Paul Street and handed fronds to several sheriff's deputies.
"I'm not too tired," said Quentin, the cathedral youth member, as the group crossed Lafayette Street. He was glad to participate, he said, because, "I think it definitely helps get the word out that things need to change."
As the group crossed North Avenue, something unexpected happened. A group of eighth and ninth graders from the confirmation class at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, in Homeland, was walking the other way, as part of a Palm Sunday day of service.
The 16 students and two teachers had just worshiped at St. Michael and All Angels, a nearby Episcopal church, and were catching a No. 13 bus to do a spring cleanup at a community center in east Baltimore.
'We're calling it our urban adventure," said Redeemer teacher Matt Buck.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun