With its recent contract to buy the Severna Park YMCA property and plans to build a 150-bed assisted living home for seniors, Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church is poised to become one of the most noticeable and perhaps powerful churches in the area.
"The church reaches out in ministry to all people," said the Rev. Sandra Thomas, an associate pastor at the 83-year-old church. "And what you're seeing here is just the church doing that really well."
Last week the church signed a contract to buy the YMCA property, which includes the former St. John's church building, for $525,000. Church officials hope to settle by Aug. 31. The property is at Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard and Cypress Creek Road, next to Woods Memorial.
Church officials say their building, home to a congregation of more than 2,000, is bursting at the seams. Still, they offer their facilities to those who need the space.
On any given day the Severna Park Homemakers, the Boy Scouts, the American Association of Retired Persons, Alcoholics Anonymous, even the Korean Lighthouse Church, use the church's meeting rooms. The Black Panther Party met there once.
More than 200 preschoolers play and learn each day at the church's Child Development Center. Several other church groups use the building to practice for Sunday services, plan missionary trips or have fellowship activities.
"It's an institution," said Ione Williams, a deacon. "I feel the words Woods and community, these two are synonymous."
According to church officials, having a strong influence in the community has been part of the Woods mission since a small congregation of about eight people first met in a one-room schoolhouse in June 1912 and founded Severna Park's first Protestant church.
In 1954, when families wanted to get a jump on their children's education, Woods began a preschool -- before the county school system had a kindergarten. About 13 percent of the church's $1 million budget goes toward missionary work.
This week, 92 of the church's high school students are building houses for Habitat for Humanity, a private agency that helps underprivileged families.
Ms. Thomas said the church's service to Severna Park residents will continue through programs at the YMCA property, and at Woods wise, the senior home.
Church officials said they will spend more than $100,000 during the next six months to improve the old YMCA building. They hope to work with community groups and area churches to re-establish some of the programs the Severna Park YMCA offered before it went out of business.
The YMCA closed unexpectedly last month, leaving only a note on the front door stating that the group had financial problems. The YMCA was more than $750,000 debt.
Church officials said one idea for the building is to hold parties there for area youths after school sports activities.
"If other churches would help out with that, it would be a wonderful activity that would be safe and fun," Ms. Thomas said.
"We don't feel like we're in competition with other churches. There's a lot to do."