An update on the Southern Baptist Church in Joppatowne [letter to The Aegis]


Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Donte' Lamont Hickman, the Pastor of the Southern Baptist Church. I have been the Pastor of Southern for 12 year, and since I began as Pastor, we have implemented a vision and mission driven church committed to community outreach and transformation.


About four years ago we began a multi-site church in Harford County. We had members who already lived in Harford County and we wanted to provide another ministry presence and option for established and new residents of Harford County.

Interestingly enough, the first place I came to look for a facility to hold services in was Joppatowne. I remember driving up to Joppatowne High School and asked some students about the community. They were very informative and helpful and also shared with me that a high school basketball game was going on at Edgewood High. So I drove over to see the game and to observe apart of the community. I met a pastor's wife there who shared with me about the differing communities. I drove back the next day and ended up at the Regal Belair Cinema. We called the theatre, established a contract, and began a nine month planning for Southern Baptist Church Harford County. When we began in September 2009 at the theatre it was a great success. After five months we searched for a school to move our services to and discovered Aberdeen High School had availability for our church.

I am proud to say we have five worship services, two of which are in Harford County that facilitate worship and ministry for residents of the county that mostly come from Edgewood, Joppatowne, and Aberdeen. I drive every week to Harford County to meet the spiritual needs of those residents of that area that attend our services. As you may imagine the people in Harford are very committed, middle class families who are very interested in having a more permanent facility for their church where they live. We sought retail centers, warehouses, and church buildings. When I happened upon the pool property it was as if I was divinely brought full circle to the exact spot where my journey began.

It was never my intention nor members of our church to intrude or trespass upon the established Joppatowne community residents. We sought to do our due diligence by first going to the area councilman, Dion Guthrie, to express our intent to purchase the property. He was very informative and helpful. He identified an attorney to help us from Harford County. He also enabled us to come and meet with the Joppatowne Community Council and we did so because at all points we wanted to go about this process in a healthy, sensitive, and right manner. At the time we didn't know everything that could be done with the property so we invested in an engineer from Harford County to do a feasibility study. It was our hope then that before we developed the property that we would be able to open the pool.

We discovered upon purchasing it, however, all the repairs that were needed and the cost just to "shock" the pool and get it running were just exorbitant and unaffordable. Even the pro forma for the swim club for three years conveyed that it just didn't work as a good business in the community any longer.

We discovered through the feasibility study that not only could a church be built that could more than accommodate the 200 people we have attending every week, but that it could also facilitate a community center space with a gymnasium and classrooms, a child care facility, and 300 parking spaces on the property.

We made preliminary vision statements of what we could build, but we also listened to the felt needs of the community. Therefore, we determined to construct a family life center for the residents of Joppatowne and our members in Harford County. This center for seniors and youth would be open to the community year round with activities and programs that the community should help us in determining.

We maintain that this could be a win-win situation for the community and the church that is made up of Harford County residents. It is not our intent to be adversarial, and yet we are being unfairly prejudged and criticized.

I have offered to meet with the council again as no community input meeting would be established until we were ready to develop the property. We want to be partners and good neighbors with and within the Joppatowne community. And I am humbly asking that we all step back and begin again with getting to know each other and find ways to work together for the benefit of the community, county, and church.

The church is committed to this property and bringing it to another level of community use and pride. And we remain hopeful and prayerful that you will sense our heart and integrity in this process. Thank you for your consideration. And please feel free to correspond with me at southernbaptistchurch.org or call 410-732-8566. May God continue to bless you and your families.

Donte' L. Hickman, Pastor

Southern Baptist Church