A new church building will soon join the diverse crop of religious offerings around central Bel Air.
Four Evangelists Orthodox Church bought a house in February at 528 North Hickory Ave., in front of the Hickory Hills apartments, and plans to remodel it into a more official-looking headquarters for the congregation.
Its priest, Father Gregory Czumak, said the site would provide more visibility than the Gateway Drive cul-de-sac storefront the church has occupied for the past 4 1/2 years.
The church plans to gut the Hickory Avenue house, raise the ceiling, make handicapped accessible bathrooms and access ramp, expand the entrance area, rebuild the parking pad and have signage on Hickory Avenue.
The Town of Bel Air approved a building permit for the conversion on June 2.
A rough draft of the plans shows a more formal church building with distinctive Orthodox cupolas, but for now, Czumak said, the congregation is just focused on moving in, possibly this October.
Its members are also considering eventually adding a larger building or razing the existing building, which is smaller than the existing Gateway Drive site, Czumak said.
The Hickory Avenue home is about 5,000 square feet, on roughly half an acre. Construction is set to start in August.
Although the new property has less worship space, it will mean Four Evangelists can finally have its own building, Czumak explained.
"We are going to be intimate and inviting," he said. "Down the road, our goal is to build a larger temple."
The congregation has fluctuated over the years, and now consists of about 24 adults and 18 children, he said.
While the church is part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, it has a diverse membership and only one or two members are ethnically Ukrainian, Czumak said. Services are in English.
Czumak, a Prince George's County native, graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1987 and also has a secular job as an electrical engineer. He began serving in Harford County after an acquaintance mentioned there were no Orthodox churches in the area.
Czumak talked to his bishop and ended up launching services out of a space at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Churchville. The congregation then rented out space at The John Carroll School before moving to Gateway Drive.
"We are a small mission parish," Czumak said.
The church's website, however, mentions an "exciting period of growth of Orthodoxy in northern Maryland."
Czumak pointed out that a little over a decade ago, Harford County had no Orthodox churches and now has two, along with Sts. Mary Magdalene & Markella Greek Orthodox Church in Darlington.
Such congregations have been growing nationwide. The Orthodox church is prominent for celebrating Easter, as well as some other holidays, on different days than western Christian churches. Many churches also use the Julian or "old calendar," although Four Evangelists uses the "new calendar."
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA is in communion with other Orthodox churches around the world. It is part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate along with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the USA.
"Everybody, no matter who you are, has within them a longing for God," Czumak said about the trend of church growth.
About half of his congregants are "cradle Orthodox" and half are converts. The church has vespers Saturday evening and services Sunday morning. Czumak said he also hopes to eventually have weekday morning services.
"We think this new location is really going to offer us an opportunity to grow in service to God and in service to the community, and we are very excited about that," he said.