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Westminster church affirms presence downtown with renovated parish house


Westminster United Methodist Church consecrated its renovated parish house yesterday, a symbol of the church's commitment to downtown Westminster.

The afternoon service of consecration included a sermon by the Rev. Bernard Keels, district superintendent of the United Methodist Church's Baltimore West District, and a rite of consecration that brought the congregation out on Main Street in front of the building.

The parish house is at 162 E. Main St.

The congregation discussed moving out of town to a site with more parking space, but decided "to have a Christian presence here is important," said the Rev. David A. Highfield, the pastor.

A soup kitchen operates two days a week in the church hall.

Dances, wedding receptions and community group meetings are booked into the multipurpose rooms.

The parish house "was basically falling down," Mr. Highfield said.

The congregation approved a $700,000 renovation that began in October 1992.

"There were formal votes, but they also voted by the strength of their giving," the pastor said.

Pledges and donations have brought the debt down to less than $300,000, he said.

The congregation hopes to pay it off in 10 years.

The congregation renovated the parish house rather than tearing it down to increase parking because the building is needed for adult education classes on Sundays.

It will also house a larger church library.

The parish house was originally three rowhouses on different elevations, probably built between 1811 and 1819, according to a history researched by church members Mary Jane Shauck, Ralph Sloan and Harriet Wyman.

The congregation bought the building in 1949 for $21,000.

Renovations included new interior walls, floors and ceilings.

Workers water-blasted the exterior brick walls to create an appearance designed to blend in with Westminster's other historic buildings.

To provide parking, the church has cooperation from local businesses that allow church members to use their parking lots on Sundays, Mr. Highfield said.

"We find that people will come. We can get them here. They find parking spaces," he said.

Average attendance at church services is 425; in Sunday School classes, 200.

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