The June 26, cartoon "Church To Eliminate Joppatowne Pool" attempt at humor is a very ambiguous image and epithet that is neither funny nor factual. One would think in the light of the mistake of Paula Deen that people would be more thoughtful, sensitive, and less exploitative. But the message that is being conveyed here is one of entitlement and prejudice. When the paper first picked up this story we were led to believe that persons in the community were not opposing the church or its plans for privately owned property we are seeking to purchase but, were opposed to the pool being closed. However, this cartoon image has now brought an all out offensive attack on the church and someone's minuscule interpretation of the purpose for which the church stands and serves. It also represents a misconstruing of the facts of the ownership, history, and business failure of the once Joppatowne Swim Club, and now closed, Mariner Point Swim Club.
First, the five acre swim club property was listed for sale as a B2 zoned property with descriptive and defining statements that a church could be built upon it. We located the "for sale" property under the heading churches for sale in Harford County Md on loopnet.com and there were posted for sale signs on the fences of the property as far back as December 2012.
Southern Baptist Church has been in Harford County as a multi-site ministry for the past three years. We have a committed and growing attendance of 300-plus persons every week and capacity crowds on special days. But the real growth we have seen is in the desire, consistency, and commitment of the people to do the real work of ministry. The people we have attracted in Harford County want to serve their communities with excellence, presence, and substance. They want a place where they can meet, study, organize, rehearse, welcome, and do community outreach beyond Sunday morning in the area where they reside. That's what the church is and that's what the church does. It is a community of believers in Jesus Christ that seeks to cultivate and connect, empower, educate, partner, and facilitate communities of people beyond race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.
To that end we have sought retail spaces, houses of worship, and warehouses for which to lease and convene in a more permanent and user friendly space. The Mariner Swim Club property became on the surface ideal because it offered to us enough space to build upon in the area where we first canvassed and studied to begin our multi site ministry in Harford County. It also offered us an opportunity to demonstrate to our members in Harford County that we were serious as a church about making a commitment and having a full ministry presence in Harford County. We prayed about it, sought a commercial Realtor, surveyed the property, and made the owner an offer.
We took the liberty of checking the history on the property and read in archived articles of the lack of support the swim club received from its community in order to feasibly keep its doors opened. On several occasions this property could not financially sustain itself. Thus, I presume the owner placed it for sale. We sought to do everything right during our due diligence period. We sought an engineer from a pool of engineers in Harford County, hired legal counsel from Harford County, personally visited Councilman Dion Guthrie to share with him our proposed plans and to ask for his guidance and support. We asked for and attended two meetings, one with the Joppatowne Community Council and the Edgewood Community Council to share with them our process and plans and to receive their feedback and support. Both meetings went very well and we vowed to maintain a presence within their meetings and to provide them with updates of our progress. We received a letter from planning and zoning that the property was properly zoned and that we could build a church on it.
We shared with community stakeholders that we empathized with the community regarding the historical and sentimental value of the pool in the community and because our timelines for construction would take us 3-5 years before we would develop the property, that we would seek a company to open and manage the pool during the summers. We also stressed that when we build we would be sure to have a facility and year round programmatic thrust for children and families within the community. We included this in our conversation and conceptualizing with the engineer. And it was determined that we could build not only a sanctuary, but also a community life center to include multipurpose space with ample parking on site. All of which obviously stretched our budget, but this is our vision of what a church is and what a church does.
To then be met with this kind of vicious and visceral resistance is a slap in the face. To hide behind and exploit children for a cover of something that is much more pervasive here is disgusting. To devalue the church and belittle its attempts to maximize the value of a closed for business pool into a center for community empowerment, education, and entertainment, is uncharacteristic of what we should be modeling for and expecting of our children. A picture is worth a thousand words. Sadly, some of the words this picture conveys are disrespect, ignorance, ridicule, and an ethos of generational entitlement. It conjures up the notion of "you" are not welcomed here.
Donte' L. Hickman Sr., Pastor
Southern Baptist Church