That it was a special day at St. Mark United Methodist Church was evident by the hats -- hats with feathers, hats with flowers, hats withbeads and bows.
Minutes before the service was to start, one congregant bustled around the ladies room, debating whether to wear one. "I hate a hat, I really do," she muttered. "But I guess I should wearone."
She emerged from the bathroom minutes later with the hat nestled neatly in place.
The parishioners, who packed the church on DorseyRoad in Hanover, were dressed to the nines for yesterday's service because they had something special to celebrate -- 150 years of service, worship and history.
When church members attending the two-hour"sesquicentennial" service raised their voices to sing "The Church'sOne Foundation," they sounded like they meant it.
Irene B. Hebron, who was baptized in the church and has worshiped there for 65 years, said the church has played a vital role in the lives of its predominantly black congregation since its forefathers and mothers started meeting in a barn on nearby Ridge Road in 1842.
"This is the most important institution in the community for black people," Hebron said."For black people, for a long time, the church was paramount. That'sall we had."
Daisy Parker, 81, a lifelong member of the church, remembers walking up Ridge Road to Sunday school as a youngster. The church has always been the central focus of her life.
"When I was achild, I had nothing but the church . . . church and home, that's what people had," she said. "Today, there's so much more involved."
Although times have changed, she thinks the church still plays an important role, bringing people together in their otherwise hectic lives.
"There's so many more people now. It's important for them to gettogether to worship," she said.
Since its humble beginnings, St. Mark United Methodist has undergone many changes, including building and rebuilding the church four times.
After meeting in the barn for two years, members built a log cabin church where they worshiped for 23 years. They built the second church, a more formal structure, onthe same land in 1867. A third, even bigger church followed in 1900.
The parish moved to its Dorsey Road location in 1968. The church,which now has about 500 members, serves Dorsey, Matthewstown, Harmans and parts of Severn.
Assistant Pastor Kenneth Stewart, who has served in a half dozen Methodist churches, came to St. Mark a year anda half ago. He ranks it above all other Please see CHURCH, Page 4CHURCHContinued from Page 1churches he's been assigned to serve.
"I think it's one of the most outstanding Methodist churches in the state," he said. "The people are united. They work together. They love this church so much, they go far beyond their means to provide for it and for their youth."
The church sponsors numerous programs to help the poor and sick and has active youth programs. Several church members said the facility and its annex are used all week.
"I would nothave come as far without this church," said Preston Hebron, principal of Jessup Elementary School and part of a large family that attendsthe church. A lifelong member, Hebron, who holds a doctoral degree, said the many church-sponsored programs and activities provided the foundation for his academic achievement and fostered his self-esteem.
Younger members of the congregation said teen-agers today are lessinterested in the church than they were years ago. They often come to church, they said, because their parents force them to.
But eventhough some mornings "you're just too tired to come," most teens would admit -- to anyone but their parents, that is -- that they're gladtheir families come to church together every Sunday, said Nicole Brogden, 16.
"It's important to learn about God," she said. "You always learn new stuff about Jesus when you come."
And 14-year-old Shaila Hebron agreed that going to church is a good thing. "It helps to bring families closer," she said.