Church renovates former funeral home

Danny Sander, of Catonsville, caulks the molding in the future home of the Church of the Good Shepherd. The church, now based in Ellicott City, purchased the 134-year-old mansion on Edmondson Avenue that most recently served as a funeral home. (Staff photo by Sarah Pastrana / December 23, 2012)

A Christmas tree and candles adorned the new home of the Church of the Good Shepherd — but the congregation had to celebrate Christmas at its temporary worship space.

But sometime around Easter, repairs will be completed, the scaffolding gone and a new ministry center and worship space will open in the former Sterling Ashton Schwab Funeral Home on Edmondson Avenue.

Just don't expect steeples or a big cross to trumpet the Church of the Good Shepherd's presence, according to the Rev Martin Eppard, rector of the church.

Eppard, a Catonsville resident and a former member of St. Timothy's Church, is the founding pastor of the church, which formed in 1994.

The church combines the traditions of evangelical churches, Pentecostals' spontaneous prayer and the sacramental and liturgical traditions of Catholics and Anglicans.

It currently holds worship service in the Ellicott City VFW Hall and is planning to return the once-grand mansion to its former appearance even as it renovates spaces for worship and ministry.

"It's a work in progress," said Lane Knox, a parishioner serving as general contractor for the project. "We don't actually know when we'll move in."

In the meantime, candles light the multitude of windows. A Christmas tree graced one of the sunrooms last week. And statues of Mary and Joseph by the large entrance gateway into the courtyard greeted visitors.

Renovations to the Italianate-style mansion built in 1878 are now in full swing. A string of contractors has made its way to the building — as have the neighbors, noted Loretta Knox, Lane's wife and a professional decorative painter.

"People have been dropping by from all over Catonsville," she said.

Members of the Parr family, which owned the house and used it as a residence, have visited, bringing family photos to share.

Members of the Ashton family have stopped by as well, as have members of the Witzke family, a longtime Catonsville presence in the funeral home industry.

"They're happy to see it was being restored," Loretta Knox said.

The 7,000-square-foot house has 20 rooms on three floors, sits on 6 acres and includes a carriage house.

Plans are for house worship space just inside the front door, a commercial kitchen, fellowship space, a wellness center, offices, a food pantry, room for seminary classes "or whatever the needs are in the community," Eppard said.

"We can do different things as the need arises," he said.

The front room that will be used worship space is getting the early attention. Roof work, asbestos abatement and plumbing also topped the to-do list, Lane Knox said.

Future plans include converting the carriage house into a youth center.

"We are doing a lot to make it look the way it was," said Loretta Knox.

She cautioned that it won't technically be a historic restoration, though some things will be restored to their former luster. Hardwood floors will be refinished and the original banister has been restored, for instance.