Evangelism push moves Taneytown minister to switch churches


When the Rev. Edward Woodard's family joins him in Virginia this week, they won't just be changing congregations.

They'll be changing denominations.

Mr. Woodard, who has been the minister at Taneytown Baptist Church for four years, has accepted the pastorate at Oak Grove Church of the Brethren in Roanoke, Va.

"This was very painful," the 43-year-old pastor said of his decision to join the Church of the Brethren. "This is a big decision at any time, but especially at age 43."

A Southern Baptist for the past 24 years and a minister for 17, Mr. Woodard stressed that his decision had nothing to do with his Taneytown congregation.

"They are very good people that are involved in ministry and care about people finding Christ," he said. "I've had to leave a lot of folks I love and a lot of fine Christians.

"My decision is not a reflection on them, it is a reflection on the denomination."

The painful process to his decision began several years ago, as conflicts in the Baptist denomination emerged and the leadership began pushing a new tradition of evangelism.

"They have moved more toward right-wing fundamentalism and there is less room for diversity," said the 1975 graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. They are following a tradition of evangelism to the exclusion of ministering to the community and the people around them."

About the time they came to Taneytown from Eastport Baptist Church in Annapolis, Mr. Woodard's wife, Emma Jean, took a job as executive secretary at the Westminster Church of the Brethren.

Through her associations, Mr. Woodard began to realize how similar his religious views were to those of his wife's employers.

"I knew nothing about the denomination, but found that we had a great deal in common," he said. "I have always appreciated the roots Southern Baptists have in taking the Bible seriously, and the Brethren attempt to do that."

Mr. Woodard also was impressed with the Church of the Brethren's commitment to social justice, something he feels his former denomination is neglecting.

Finally, after speaking with many Brethren ministers and with Ron Petry, executive director of the church's Mid-Atlantic region, Mr. Woodard decided to make the switch.

"I finally decided I needed to go where I'm going to be happy," he said. "I didn't want to become a destructive force. I'd rather work for something than against it.

"The denomination may swing back, but I don't want to spend 10 to 15 years waiting for it to happen."

Mr. Woodard was examined by the district's ministry committee which recognized his ordination and was installed as a Church of the Brethren pastor earlier this summer. The Virginia native was installed as pastor at Oak Grove on Aug. 2.

Now, as he looks to the future and his new duties, Mr. Woodard said he wants to learn more about the members of the Roanoke congregation.

"I want to get to know them as a congregation," he said. "To learn their distinct gifts and those gifts can be involved in direct ministry to the community."

But that didn't make leaving Carroll County any easier, Mr. Woodard admitted.

"I shed many a tear over this," he said. "There are many Southern Baptists who are balanced, very caring and take a more holistic view of the gospel. I just felt that God was leading in this direction."

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