A historic Baltimore church will begin a $2.2 million campaign to raise money to upgrade and modernize its facilities, inaugurating the fundraising with a prestigious national grant for “sacred spaces.”
Officials of Lovely Lane United Methodist Church ― designed by noted architect Stanford White in the 1880s and widely known as “the mother church of American Methodism” ― plan to bring its wood-trimmed chapel, upstairs assembly hall, basement gymnasium, classrooms and other features into line with the needs and expectations of 21st-century visitors. The Rev. Debbie Scott, the church’s pastor, said that will enhance its value to the community.
Scott and other religious and civic leaders gathered Monday night at the church in the Old Goucher neighborhood in midtown Baltimore to announce that Lovely Lane was one of 10 U.S. congregations to win earlier this month a capital grant for 2019-2020 from the National Fund for Sacred Places, a preservation and development program that supports historic houses of worship.
The grant, an award of up to $250,000, will be used to kick-start a renovation plan church leaders have been developing for two years.
Scott was joined by Bishop LaTrelle Easterling of the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church, Democratic City Councilman Robert Stokes and members and leaders of the congregation when she outlined the church’s plan to turn much of the 135-year-old building into what will be called The Lovely Lane Arts and Neighborhood Center.
Scott says the project will allow Lovely Lane to reclaim its identity as a hub of community activity, a status it enjoyed from its opening in 1884 through the 1930s, when the neighborhood around St. Paul Street and 22nd Street was safer and more prosperous.
The church opens its doors for a range of nonreligious activities. The building is home to the Baltimore Lab School, for example, and has hosted Wednesday night dances for the Baltimore Folk Music Society in its assembly hall for more than 30 years. Its Brannan Chapel, an elliptical auditorium separate from the church sanctuary, is a concert and exhibition space.
But the layout, wiring, lighting and other functions, designed for another era, are so limited, Scott said, that the facilities are underused. The acoustics in Brannan are so good, for example, that for years the Baltimore City Community College Choir held its Christmas concert in the chapel. But with only two bathrooms on site, organizers decided to move the event elsewhere.
The first phase of the renovation calls for the addition of four restrooms, the restoration of windows in the chapel, the installation of air conditioning in the fellowship hall and the construction of a handicapped-accessible ramp at street level.
A second phase would include upgrading gym restrooms and locker rooms, adding theater lighting and restoring the floors of the chapel.
The capital campaign will involve securing public and private funding to achieve those and other goals, said Jackie Noller, chair of the church’s building committee.
Scott said increased accessibility means increased openness, and that’s even more important now that the surrounding community, in her words, has become a “challenged neighborhood,” one with growing crime and homelessness problems.
“A lot of folks drive by this place and never stop in," she said in an interview before the event. "A big part of Monday is going to be saying, ‘This is who we are. We want everyone to be a part of it.' ”
Now it its fourth year, the National Fund for Sacred Places ― established with nearly $14 million in grants from the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc. ― works in collaboration with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to help repair and restore “historic sacred spaces,” safeguard their physical legacies and “strengthen the value they contribute to their communities.”
Lovely Lane ― with its regular attendance of 60 and membership about four times that size ― is the first Maryland congregation to be recognized.
Its grant application described the church’s architectural and religious significance, including the fact that White ― who designed the triumphal arch in New York City’s Washington Square and an early version of Madison Square Garden ― patterned its granite exterior, square bell tower and pulpit after the 12th-century churches and basilicas of Ravenna, Italy.
The Romanesque Revival structure carries the name Lovely Lane as the congregation traces its roots to the Lovely Lane Chapel, or Meeting House, in downtown Baltimore. In December 1784, it hosted the “Christmas Conference,” at which leaders of the newly independent Methodists formed the American denomination.
Nowell said the renovation will link the church’s history to a thriving and open future.
“Lovely Lane may not have stayed the course as anchor of the community over the last 20 years, particularly as the city population has shifted to the counties," she said, “but [it is] still an architectural gem that can be rehabilitated enough to bring in educators, artists and community groups to share the space exactly as they did in yesteryear.”