St. Timothy's Church of Baltimore County held its last Sunday service in its building on Ingleside Avenue — which they have occupied since 1844 — June 30 after voting as a parish on Feb. 10 to switch faiths from Episcopalian to Roman Catholic.
Those congregation members who chose to convert to Catholicism will move to St. Mark Church's building on Melvin Avenue for the time being as they search for a new, permanent home in the area.
Emory Stagmer,a member of St. Tim's for more than 20 years, and was among the parishioners who voted to switch.
He said the group negotiated with the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, which owns the church property, but was unable to retain their worship space.
"We went to the Episcopal Diocese with a lease, with an option to buy proposal and they turned it down and said that they were not going to make us a counter offer," Stagmer said. "We know going into this entire process that ... it was a distinct possibility (to lose the church building.)"
"The new Roman Catholic congregation was allowed to maintain a presence in the Catonsville church property during their transition through a cooperative arrangement with the Episcopal Church," said the statement from the Rev. Scott Slater, canon to the ordinary of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. "The new Catholic community will be leaving the property effective June 30, 2013.
"The buildings and grounds remain the property of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and we are currently discerning future uses of this space," the statement said. "As we have said from the start, our goal is to maintain an Episcopal presence in Catonsville. This is a strong community and we plan to be here for a very long time."
Stagmer said the group is thankful to St. Mark's parish for welcoming them into their church home, and is looking at property at both St. William of York Catholic Church on Cooks Lane and Mount de Sales Academy on Academy Road for a long-term spot.
"St. Mark is very graciously sharing the space with us, but they use that space too," Stagmer said. "The kinds of things, the outreach that we've done ... we've got to find a home and a way to keep doing those things.
"We are not going to be able to do them at St. Mark probably, but now we're going to be able to have the resources and the energy and the focus to do more of those kinds of things (when we find a new space)," he said.
"We're pretty committed to trying to stay in Catonsville, as close as we can to where we've been," he said.
An invitation to come back
The Rev. Terry Sweeney, former officiate at St. Timothy's, said the decision to covert to Catholicism was not easy, but one that had become inevitable for he and the members of the church.
"Theologically and socially, when it became clear that there was a permanent disconnect between the congregation and the denomination, I spoke with (Episcopal) Bishop Eugene Sutton," said Sweeney, who retired in April and is moving to Tennessee with his family .
"The long and short of it is that, across the Episcopal spectrum, there are various bishops and priests and churches who have stopped teaching or believing the very earliest and fundamental tenants of Christianity," he said.
"The other part of is that, St. Timothy's has been and is, a pro-life congregation. It's been a congregation who has had a high view, high value, for scripture and as a result of that, would not support, say, the marriage of same sex couples," he said. "The Episcopal church supports same-sex unions. The Episcopal church supports abortion."
The parishioners who did not agree with those Episcopal positions voted to become members of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, a diocese that includes the United States, Canada and Mexico.
The North American Ordinariate, in addition to others in England, Australian and elsewhere, was created in 2012 after a global invitation by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 for Anglicans to return to Catholicism.
"It's really a new movement in the Catholic Church, as a way for Anglicans to come into full communion with the Catholic church," said Father Steve Sellers, director of communications for the Houston-based Ordinariate.
"We have very close relationships with all the Catholic dioceses and we are fully Catholic," Sellers said. "It's really a desire to live into Jesus' call that we all be one."
Stagmer said that, though the arriving at the decision to change faiths was a long and challenging journey, he is happy with the results.
"It made sense for me that I should be a part of this," he said. "I think the Roman Catholics got it right."