When the Rev. Douglas E. Fox walked into the Owen Brown Interfaith Center recently, he got a tip from his new flock: "Lose the ties."
"I've always worn ties," the minister said. "They said, 'Lose the ties. It's much more informal here.' "
The longtime Baltimore minister, who is used to wearing suits and ties and serving as minister at more traditional churches, is settling into his new role at the 170-member Christ United Methodist Church in the ecumenical setting of the Owen Brown Interfaith Center.
"It may not look like the stained-glass, steepled [traditional church], but you walk through the doors and it feels like church," he said of the interfaith center, one of four such centers in the county, which are shared by different congregations.
July 1 was the first day on the new job for the 46-year-old divorced father of two sons, Neal, 15, and Joel, 12. The trio lives in a home that Christ United owns on nearby Tauler Court.
Before coming to Christ United, Mr. Fox split his time between two congregations in Northeast Baltimore: Wilson Memorial United Methodist Church and Waverly United Methodist Church.
Before that, he had been minister at Old Otterbein United Methodist Church near Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
A couple of days after his July 3 sermon at Christ United, on "being seen in a new light," Mr. Fox sat in his office and discussed his plans for the church.
"I think my immediate goal is to revitalize the active church members here and do a real push for ministry growth," he said. "It seems to me that the church hit a wall at some point in recent years and hasn't found a way to grow."
One way he may reach out to the community is by duplicating the three popular coffeehouse ministries he coordinated in Baltimore, including one with Old Otterbein United Methodist. The coffeehouses have drawn up to 250 people nightly for live folk music.
"What I've done in the past is have regular Friday night shows," he said. "I may do Sunday jazz services here."
It was "a good, safe place to come together," Mr. Fox said of the coffeehouses. They were also a way to raise money for homeless shelters and AIDS hospices.
Mr. Fox also has conducted youth ministries and several university and college campus ministries.
"I like the thought of ministry that's always on the edge," he said.
Born in New York state, Mr. Fox obtained a bachelor's degree in art from the State College of Buffalo in 1970 and received a master's in divinity from the Colgate Rochester, N.Y., Divinity School four years later. He stayed in Rochester to minister to local churches.
In 1976, he moved to North Carolina to work as a minister. He went to Baltimore in 1984.
Earlier this year, he asked for a new assignment and was given the Columbia congregation. He replaces the Rev. Mary Ellen Huzzard, who was assigned to Chevy Chase United Methodist Church. She had been Christ United's minister for about four years.
Members of the 20-year-old congregation moved almost 10 years ago into the Owen Brown building, which it co-owns with the Unitarian Universalist congregation.
Carol Meyer, who helped interview Mr. Fox for the position as a member of the staff parish committee, said, "He seemed very articulate and sensitive and had all the good things you want from a minister."
She said that she is not impressed so much by what ministers preach "but how they relate to people."
Kellye Beaman, a two-year member, said she thinks the new minister is friendly and has a sincere interest in children.
She noted that at his first service, Mr. Fox continued his predecessor's tradition of interacting with children during the worship service through the use of puppet -- in his case, a fox puppet.
"He seemed to have a sense of humor, and I like that in a minister," said Mrs. Beaman.