One of Baltimore's biggest and fastest growing congregations won approval yesterday to build a new sanctuary on the grounds of an old religious institution in Irvington.
With softly murmured prayers and promises to be good neighbors, about 70 members of the New Psalmist Baptist Church persuaded the city's Planning Commission to permit the construction of a $7.5 million complex on a 20-acre estate the church owns in Southwest Baltimore.
Several residents near the wooded campus at 4501 Old Frederick Road, once a home for elderly Episcopalians, expressed concern that their community would be clogged with traffic on Sundays.
They questioned whether the 3,000 parishioners would find it easier to park on the residential streets than at the church's two parking lots.
"We are not opposing the building of this church, but we have some grave concerns about the traffic and the peace and serenity of our neighborhood," said resident Eileen Smith.
But the Rev. Walter S. Thomas, pastor of the church, and supporters including state Del. Elijah E. Cummings and City Councilman Melvin L. Stukes promised to work with the community to resolve the concerns.
"We don't see ourselves apart from the community, but a part of it," said Delegate Cummings, D-Baltimore, who has been a member of the church for the past 10 years.
The congregation has outgrown its current home, a 146-year-old Gothic Revival Church at Franklin and Cathedral streets.
Mr. Cummings said he arrived late the last few Sundays only to find every one of the 1,000 seats taken. Members live in all parts of Baltimore and come from as far away as southern Pennsylvania and northern Virginia.
Councilman Stukes attributes much of the growth to the church's dynamic pastor -- "a magna cum laude speaker."
This marks the second time that cramped pews forced New Psalmist parishioners to move. In 1978, the growing, mostly black congregation left a building near North and Druid Hill avenues and acquired the Presbyterian church on Franklin Street from a declining, mostly white congregation.
The new church, a mixture of traditional and modern styles, will accommodate 2,000 worshipers. A church school already is being run by the congregation at the site bounded by Old Frederick Road, Upland Parkway and Pen Lucy Road.
Parishioners will be stationed at the main entrance off Old Frederick Road and a side entrance at Pen Lucy Road to direct traffic to 500 parking spaces. Mr. Thomas said he believes the parking will be adequate because parishioners are split between two services on Sundays.
In approving the church, the planning commission set a series of conditions to protect the community, including a right-turn-only exit onto Pen Lucy, preservation of old trees and lights that reflect away from the streets. The commission also asked the Bureau of Transportation to look at installing a traffic light at Pen Lucy and Upland.
The church has agreed to maintain a 42-room Victorian mansion, the summer home of the late Mary Frederick Jacobs, which was left to the Episcopal Church in 1936. From 1952 to 1986, the estate was the Uplands Home for Church Women, a residence for elderly Episcopalians.