Fifty years ago, parishioners at Community United Methodist Church in Maryland City were worshiping in the basement of a home on Urbana South. A lot's changed since then.
"This is a milestone to be celebrated," said the Rev. Michelle Thorne Mejia. "We're looking at our past and where we've come from, and celebrating that. But we're also looking toward our future and into the vision that God has given us for the next 50 years."
Community United celebrated its 50th anniversary with a series of events last weekend, culminating in a service on Sunday, officiated by the Annapolis District Superintendent, the Rev. Dr. Evan Young, and kicking off with an ice cream social Friday evening. More than 50 people were at Friday's event, grouped around tables in the church's basement — a basement that, 50 years ago, didn't exist.
The church has humble beginnings, and an interesting history, Mejia said. In 1966, the parish purchased Fort Meade's old army chapel for $100; getting the building from Fort Meade to its current location on Brock Bridge Road was another story, however. The church spent $10,000 to build a foundation and transport the building — in three pieces — to its new home. In the years that followed, the church has become a home itself for its parishioners.
"This church is love, to me," said Barb Danielson, 72, of Terra Alta, W.Va. "This is our home church. We raised our family here. Our babies were baptized here, got married here. God kept us in His arms here."
Danielson and her husband, Chris, 75, were parishioners at CUMC from 1969 to 2000, and though they now live in West Virginia, try to come back for the Christmas service every year. Barb Danielson said they wouldn't have missed the 50th anniversary weekend for the world.
"We just enjoy the fellowship," Chris Danielson said. "And reaching 50 years, that just shows the church's ability to maintain its strong message."
That message, Mejia said, is in the church's name itself: Community.
"We want to be a place that reflects our community," she said. "We want everyone to feel welcome, and to learn what it means to be that community of God together."
Mejia has been pastor at CUMC since 2011, and has started new outreach ministries like English classes for the surrounding Hispanic community and mission trips for the parish's youth. Reflecting on the past 50 years is good, she said, but the anniversary is more about "stepping forth faithfully into the vision that God has for us."
"We want to be a part of God's working in the world," she said. "Where God is, there's healing, reconciliation, peace, love and mercy, and in those ways, we want to be present in our community and our world."
Current and past parishioners weren't the only people to gather for the anniversary weekend. Former pastors were on hand for the celebration, too, like the Rev. Saroj Sangha, the parish's longest-serving pastor who led the church from 1994 to 2007; and her husband, the Rev. Moses Sangha, who was CUMC's pastor from 1990 to 1994.
Being able to celebrate the anniversary is a blessing, Moses Sangha said.
"It's a gift to be at this point, in this age and culture," he said. "Fifty years of ministry is a powerful thing."
Reflecting on the church's history and its future, Saroj Sangha said she was reminded of the church's motto: "The end of your search for a friendly church."
"This is a very genuine, friendly, heartwarming place, and we formed lifelong relationships here. It's like an extended family," she said. "This church has always been a blessing to the community, so we hope that it continues to be so, [to[ bring hope and love and partnership to our neighbors."