By Larry Perl, firstname.lastname@example.org
6:25 AM EDT, June 5, 2013
Rumors of a Charles Village church's death are greatly exaggerated.
"We would like to get the word out that we are a functioning and very active church," said the Rev. Kathleen Cheyney, pastor of St. John's United Methodist Church at 2640 St. Paul St.
St. John's in 2006 turned over its sanctuary, the Clark Room, to a community arts group, 2640 Collective, in a financial partnership in which the church and the collective share annual maintenance costs totaling $40,000.
"The building needed money to operate," said Tiffany DeFoe, a collective member and spokeswoman. "The partnership helped to stabilize the church."
Since then, the 113-year-old church has held services in a stone-and-brick meeting room about half the size, called the Sunday Room, on the West 27th Street side of the building.
Church membership has dwindled from as many as 400 in its heyday of the 1950s and '60s to 70 members now, fewer than 30 of whom attend Sunday services on average, said Cheyney and Van Dixon, of Guilford, chairman of the St. John's church council.
"This was a big church back in the day," Dixon said.
In recent years, there has been a misconception in Charles Village that the church, an imposing stone structure built in 1900, is no longer a house of worship.
"I've been to many meetings, like Charles Village Civic Association meetings, and I introduce myself as pastor of the church, and they say, 'Oh, is there a church here?'" Cheyney said as she and Dixon set up for services June 2.
Cheyney, of Parkton, was ordained as a deacon in 1990 with a Master of Divinity degree from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington. The former thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon, now a veterinarian, became pastor of St. John's in 2009, succeeding interim pastor the Rev. Joe Conte.
The pastor before Conte was the Rev. Drew Phoenix, was the first openly transgender minister in the United Methodist Church, according to St. John's website, http://www.stjohnsbaltimore.org.
St. John's is part of the Reconciling Ministries Network, "which works for the full participation of all people in the United Methodist Church, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity," the website states.
St. John's is also active in traditional religious outreach programs, including sponsoring Heart's Place, a homeless shelter based at the church, and Casa Baltimore/ Limay, a friendship-city project to help San Juan de Limay, Nicaragua.
"We believe that serving the community is a core aspect of our ministry and worship," the site states. "From providing shelter and food to the homeless in Baltimore to helping build a clinic in Kenya, St. John's serves others as Jesus served."
Cheyney said that although membership has declined at many churches in Baltimore and nationwide, St. John's membership is making a comeback.
"We've got new members coming in slowly," she said. "We're definitely here."