As Sandra Carnes, 77, walked up Roland Avenue to attend Sunday services at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Hampden, the Rev. Bonnie McCubbin, 27, the new pastor, was there to greet her with a hearty "Hello there!"
"She's a lot younger" than the previous pastor, the Rev. Amy Lewis, observed Carnes, who has attended Good Shepherd since her last church, Mount Vernon United Methodist in Hampden, was heavily damaged in a lightning strike in 2008 and its congregation merged with Good Shepherd.
But youth is not necessarily a bad thing, Carnes said as she took her seat among 25 mostly older parishioners.
"We're becoming used to her," Carnes said.
Though attendance was sparse, McCubbin held out hope, noting that daylight savings time had just started.
"I'm taking bets on how many people show up in an hour," McCubbin said.
And sure enough, six more did.
McCubbin is on the fault line of change in Hampden's religious community, where many longtime pastors have left, several churches have merged, some congregations are in transition and the mostly part-time local clergy are searching for ways to remain relevant and reach out to younger churchgoers.
"For me, it's all about the people, serving God and making relationships work and figuring out how we can all be closer to God," said McCubbin, who came in July and said she is the only full-time United Methodist Church pastor in the area — and one of the few full-time pastors in any denomination in the area.
Good Shepherd is one of only two independent United Methodist churches in Hampden, where there were as many as six as recently as 1999. The other one, Hampden United Methodist, is going through changes of its own, and is in a partnership with Sharp Street UMC, a mostly black congregation, to do mission and outreach work, such as feeding the homeless. Sharp Street's pastor, the Rev. Cary James Jr., has been appointed by the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church as lead pastor for the two local churches.
The Rev. Robin Johnson, pastor for the past 10 years at Hampden United Methodist and former pastor of Mount Vernon until the lightning strike, said his own future is unclear and he has told his small congregation that this might be his last year there if he is not re-appointed.
For now, Johnson said, "We're hanging in."
The former Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Hampden has merged with Mount Washington United Methodist. Mount Vernon UMC never reopened as a church after the lightning strike and was sold to Chesapeake Systems, a computer company that renovated the church as its headquarters.
United Methodist churches that have merged with Good Shepherd include the old Otterbein Memorial, Roland Avenue-Evergreen, and Mount Vernon.
"We are the merger of most of the Methodist churches in Hampden," said McCubbin.
The Methodists aren't the only ones affected by leadership changes.
At the Salvation Army's Center for Worship and Service in Hampden, the new co-pastors, lieutenants James and Erica Huse are in their 20s, succeeding Majors David and Susan Dewan.
At the 130-year-old St. Luke's Evangelical Lutheran Church on The Avenue, the Rev. Michael Dubsky has left and the Rev. Bill Gohl, dean of the Baltimore City Conference of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, comes one Sunday a month. Gohl, who is also pastor of Epiphany Lutheran in northeast Baltimore, is also supervising and training St. Luke's vicar, Jim Muratore, a seminarian at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pa.
"We're in a time of transition, determining what our ministry will look like in the future," said Muratore, 32, who led Sunday's service at St. Luke's. Muratore said the days when churches were at the center of community life are over and churches need new ways "to engage with the community."
Dubsky said that's especially true in Hampden, once a blue collar town, which now skews younger with the advent of artists, young professionals and hip boutique stores.