Baltimore County

St. Charles of Brazil church in new, larger temporary home for Sunday services

The small congregation of St. Charles of Brazil still doesn't have a permanent home, but it doesn't mind.

The group held their first Mass at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, May 4, in its new home at Historic Stone Church in Elkridge.


"I think it's going to be interesting because it's going to change the feel of our worship on Sunday. We're been in this room that's small and we've sat close together," said Peter Smith, pastor of the congregation. "It's a much larger space and it's going to be different."

The group had celebrated Sunday Mass in the basement of Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Lansdowne, where they have worshipped since the group began in 2008.


The new space located at 5805 Main Street in Elkridge accommodates 150 people, nearly twice as much as the previous space.

Although they were happy in the church, their move was based upon a need for handicapped accessible space, Smith said.

Smith, who lives in Catonsville with his wife, Susan John Smith, a Quaker, and their 13-year-old daughter, has been pastor at St. Charles since it began. He also holds a job as a licensed clinical social worker at Inspirit Counsel Services in Baltimore City and works as a part-time professor of social work.

On the fifth Sunday of Lent last month, a group of 20 had gathered in the basement of Our Saviour Lutheran to attend a Mass.

Throughout the service, the pitter-patter of feet moving upstairs could be heard when the room grew quiet. But no one seemed to notice or mind.

"It's never bothered me," said Patti Ernst, 57, of Linthincum, after the Mass.

"Nothing distracts me when I'm in this space," said Ernst, who, with her husband, Charles, has been part of the congregation for six years.

The small room had been sparsely decorated. A small crucifix and a white banner embroidered with St. Charles of Brazil are displayed on one of the pale pink walls.


The setting is not a priority for the group.

" I just feel like wherever two or more are gathered, Jesus is in their midst. So I could worship in a barn. I don't care," said Ruth Ann Wickless of Arbutus.

Wickless and her husband, Joe, have been with the church since it first started. They had been seeking a church that opened its doors to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or marital status. They attend with their three daughters nearly every Sunday.

St. Charles of Brazil is part of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA), an independent Catholic church that came to North America from Brazil in 1949. There are about a dozen throughout North America, and only one in the Baltimore area.

The congregation has about 30 members. They rented space in the basement of Our Saviour Lutheran for five years for roughly $600 a month, which has been their largest expense.

The entire congregation agrees that they'd prefer to rent a space rather than purchase a building.


"Right now, we cannot afford to buy a church. However, even if we could afford it, I don't think we would ever choose to do it," Ruth Ann Wickless said.

Wickless said the church would prefer to put money toward different programs.

"We want to be free for ministry and not responsible for owning property," she said.

"I think one of the things that's hurting a lot of these old congregations is that they're committed to these huge aging physical plants, and they can't sustain it financially. So we want to be free from that," she said.

Joe Biddle was the treasurer of an Episcopal church before joining St. Charles of Brazil. "One of our biggest challenges was maintaining a large facility," he said.

Biddle said many churches were built to accommodate large numbers of people at a time when many people attended Sunday school and used the facilities in large numbers. But churches are seeing a drop-off in attendance and have no use for the large church space, Biddle said.


Still they have to maintain that space, which is a large expense.

"A lot of us still yearn for a nice space, but it's nice to not have the cost of the space," said Biddle, an Edgewater resident.

His wife, Nora, 59, who attends the Sunday Mass with him, agreed.

"We don't have a church," she said. "But we do have a lot of spirit."