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Like the customers who buy $2.50 men's suits from its thrift shop, Poplar Springs United Methodist Church will be content LTC with its well-worn but still useful image Sunday when it celebrates its 125th birthday.

From the brass-band Independence Day picnics to the fund-raising suppers, it's not difficult to imagine the red-brick chapel back when a bell still hung under the little square roof above its south entrance.

Four loudspeakers now hang in the little bell tower, each Sunday sounding chimes to remind the Poplar Springs community that at least one thing hasn't changed in rapidly growing west county.

"When I came out here, I thought I had gone back to the 1950s," said the Rev. Sheila McCurdy, the pastor who arrived in 1993 in time for the annual Independence Day weekend picnic. "It was a real family type of picnic," she said, complete with a band that played patriotic tunes and Methodist hymns.

The 130-member church is no longer on the Howard County circuit that brought Methodist ministers by horse to perform services periodically at the church, but it still shares a Methodist "charge," which involves sharing a minister and financial resources with Jennings Chapel United Methodist Church near Florence.

Only about 30 of the church's members actually attend services regularly, and many of them belong to families whose names appear in the simple stained-glass windows of the chapel.

Pressed metal painted white covers the walls and ceilings of the chapel, which was first fitted with modern air conditioning less than five years ago.

"Before that, we used those little paper fans," said Evelyn Pickett, who is 75 and the daughter-in-law of the late Amanda Pickett, a charter member of the church.

The church's sister, Jennings Chapel, is about two decades older than the Poplar Springs church and collaborates in putting on the Fourth of July picnic and running the 20-plus-year-old thrift shop.

Money from the thrift shop, between $3,000 and $4,000 a year, is donated to Grassroots, a homeless shelter and social service organization in Columbia; the Board of Child Care, which runs a home for children who have lost their parents or had to leave their homes; and the Rescue Mission of Frederick.

A significant portion of the thrift shop money goes directly to needy people, such as the family of a woman who was severely injured in a 1993 automobile accident and could not care for her children, and the victims of house fires. Some recipients are not even in the neighborhood.

One out-of-state relative received a contribution from the church toward a bone-marrow transplant last winter.

"One of the ways of meeting the needs of the community is letting people come and shop there," said Virginia Frank, the church secretary and a Poplar Springs native. "Most of the stuff is less than a dollar."

Indeed, the most extravagant purchase one can make is not much more than that: $2.50 for a men's suit. For a few coins, shoppers can buy dresses, pants, children's toys or used books. The shop is in a one-story house that was used as shelter for homeless church members, then converted in the early 1970s.

Bedrooms are now departments -- men's clothing in one room, children's clothing and toys in another.

The church also raises money -- for its missions and for upkeep -- at its annual oyster and ham dinner on the third Saturday in November.

This Sunday, the small congregation will begin its service at the regular time of 11 a.m., but this time United Methodist District Superintendent Donald Stewart will be the guest preacher. Ms. McCurdy and former pastor Harry Baxter will lead prayers and read scripture. Normally, Ms. McCurdy does all of that herself.

After a 12:30 p.m. lunch, present and former church members will share stories about the church and its history and hear hymns played by descendants of the church's original Sunday School Band. The band, formed two generations ago, is so revered that church members acknowledge the new band as a mere replica, not a replacement for the original group.

While she cherishes the old-fashioned country charm of the church, Ms. McCurdy said the church should eventually come to grips with the changing landscape around it.

The time for change hasn't quite arrived, but members are starting to consider reaching out more to the area's new residents, the residents of new subdivisions, the refugees from more urbanized areas around Baltimore and Washington.

It was old ways, though, that drew Mrs. Pickett's 44-year-old daughter, Ann Pickett, back to Poplar Springs.

"I was in in West Virginia, teaching school for 15 years," Ann Pickett said. "I moved back five years ago because this is home. This church is home."

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