For many Christians, Easter morning is a time when churchgoers flock to their places of worship to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. One church in Timonium, however, is sending its parishioners away — specifically, 3 miles south along York Road to Towson University's SECU Arena.
"It's our first time being at SECU Arena, and we are very excited. Our ministry teams, from 7 years old and up, are very excited to serve [Easter] Sunday," said Kellie Caddick, matter conference coordinator at Church of the Nativity.
Church of the Nativity, established in 1968, has held its Easter Mass at the State Fairgrounds' Cow Palace the last two years to accommodate the 5,000 parishioners attending the service. This year, due to a scheduling conflict at the fairgrounds, the service is being held in Towson's brand new, 5,200-seat facility, which opened last spring.
Nativity's church on East Ridgely Road, built in 1970, currently seats 650 in its sanctuary. Because its weekly services are so well attended, they have temporary seats set up in areas throughout the building, with a live feed of the service shown on multiple big screens.
"Services are increasingly packed every year," said Melinda Capone, who has been a member of Nativity for six years. "If you don't get to the 10:30 Mass 10 minutes early, you don't get a seat. For Ash Wednesday this year, there was no parking available, even at [nearby] Mars Supermarket. You couldn't even get in the doors."
Just last month, Nativity launched a multi-year, $12 million "Vision" drive to expand their campus. Preliminary plans include a 1,500-seat sanctuary, expanded space for children's programs, and a dedicated area for students, among other amenities.
Capone believes there are several reasons for the Roman Catholic church's success. The first is pastor Rev. Michael White's vision to reach members of the north Baltimore community — especially Catholics — who have disconnected from the church.
White, who has served the Nativity parish for the last 17 years, co-authored "Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost and Making Church Matter" (Ave Maria Press, 2013) with Nativity's Tom Corcoran, associate to the pastor. Earlier this month, the Association of Catholic Publishers named "Rebuilt" as a finalist for the 2014 Excellence in Publishing Awards.
According to White's biography on the publisher's website, weekend attendance at the church has nearly tripled during White's tenure at Nativity.
"The pastor and the staff are all focused on evangelizing and reaching out to the larger community and opening the church to everyone," said Capone. "They are just great with wonderful messages. They have built a team and fellowship so that we can all know our fellow parishioners better."
Church services blend traditional Mass rituals with videos and live, contemporary music. Professional video cameras capture the service from multiple angles for their live feed throughout the church, as well as their online live stream for the 10:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Sunday services.
Capone, a member of Nativity's host committee, is excited about this year's Easter Mass. "For the last two years at the Cow Palace, it was so beautiful. It was amazing how they transformed the place with very simple things like fabric hanging, the music, and the people. I can't wait to experience it in the arena this year."
Capone adds that being a member of Nativity is more than just a Sunday visit to your local church. "This is not something we have to do; this is something we get to do. It is so exciting to be a part of this vision for the Catholic church."
Kristin Costanza, director of communications at Nativity, states that on a normal weekend at the church, more than 4,200 people participate in the various programs and services offered. "On Christmas," said Costanza, "we minister to over 7,000 people."
Costanza, who has been attending Nativity since she was 6 years old, will be joined by Chris Wesley, director of student ministry, to welcome the visitors to SECU Arena with a 10 a.m. opening event. Their presentation is intended to warm up the crowd and let newcomers know exactly what Nativity is all about.
Easter Mass, which is free to all and will be streamed live on the Internet, begins at 10:45 a.m.
Part of Costanza's message will be that Nativity sees beyond the traditional Sunday service and works to establish meaningful and lasting relationships with its parishioners.
"We support a devoted community of people, developing a relationship with God in an engaging and empowering way," said Costanza. "What we do on the weekend is what we do all week long. We make church matter to people."
Part of the secret to Nativity's success, according to Costanza, is the integration of small communities with the fast technology that is now a mainstay in many people's lives.
"[Nativity has] small groups of people that create communities to make it a daily activity, and we use video, blogs, social media and live streaming to remind individuals that they are connected to an even larger community."
Alison DeMartin is the chief of staff at Nativity; she and Caddick have been working with Towson University to ensure the Easter Mass is successful in delivering a celebratory message to its audience and showcasing all that Nativity has to offer.
"At the Cow Palace, they basically gave us the open space and we went in and did what we wanted to," DeMartin said. "Towson University is very proud of their new arena, and we have ministers who are working closely with their staff."
DeMartin states that the relationship with Towson has been positive. "Towson has being very accommodating as we continue to work together. It has been a great experience working with them."
In a blog post on White's blog (www.nativitypastor.tv), the pastor states that the church is asking for 130 of its members to serve as volunteers for the event, namely as greeters and hosts. Those who volunteer will be offered a special Mass before the main event.
According to the church website, attendees should park in the Union Garage. Once in the arena, visitors are encouraged to sit in the 200-level seats for the best view of the service.
Even though Church of the Nativity will not be holding the Easter Mass at its own parish, DeMartin doesn't believe the message of their mission and ministry will be diminished.
"We have the same goals as always. We are reaching out to new people by creating an irresistible environment. We are growing disciples and encouraging them back to our main campus here at Nativity," DeMartin said."We want everyone to know that something big is happening here at Nativity."
For more information about Church of the Nativity's Easter Mass at SECU Arena, go to churchnativity.tv or call 410-252-6080.