Their voices rose softly in the still morning as the procession of members of Mount Pleasant African Methodist Episcopal Church made its way yesterday down South Tollgate Road in Owings Mills, chanting a verse of thanksgiving, again and again.
"Looked down the road. Saw the church was up. I was so glad," they chanted. "Looked down the road. Saw the church was up. I was so glad."
The members of the congregation were marching to their new church yesterday, three years after a fire forced them out of the old church.
Phyllis Holt, 35, a member of Mount Pleasant for five years, beamed as she took long, proud strides to the new red-brick church at 235 S. Tollgate Road.
"It's been a long time coming. It's great to go home," Holt said.
Ex-slaves originally built the church 110 years ago. Its roof was burned in an electrical fire three years ago. The roof was under repair when the church was the scene of a second fire, which was blamed on arson. Since the first fire, Mount Pleasant's members have met in Owings Mills High School.
Members were too busy rejoicing yesterday to dwell on the pain of the fires.
"This is a great day in the eyes of the church. I'm just grateful the church has stuck together in a time of crisis," the Rev. Clifton E. Sparrow Sr., 43, pastor for nine years, said as the congregation left the school to march to the new church
"We've grown since we've been at this school," Sparrow said. What was a 110-member church grew by 40 members while holding services at the school.
Before the march, members met in the school's parking lot and joined hands in a circle, where Sparrow said a prayer.
Norrita Hopkins, 45, a church trustee and a member for 12 years, welcomed them when they arrived. "Good morning! Good morning, everyone! Praise the Lord! Welcome to the new Mount Pleasant," Hopkins said.
Echoing other members, she said she never doubted that this day would come. "I knew it was coming. We were waiting for this great day," Hopkins said.
The new church, which holds 200 people, is twice as large as the old one. The money to rebuild the $300,000 church came from mortgage insurance, loans and donations from church members, Sparrow said.
He wove the congregation's struggles to rebuild into his sermon, "Give Me This Mountain," which was taken from the Book of Joshua in the Old Testament.
"We had a mountain, but the mountain was destroyed. But I'm so glad somebody said we've come this far by faith," roared Sparrow to the amens and applause of his congregation.
"When I came and saw this altar up, I fell on my knees and said, 'Thank You Lord,' " he told his congregation. At the end of the service, Sparrow said the congregation needn't look far for him.
"I'm going to be right here. Take my shoes off and walk through the carpet," he said.
Pub Date: 12/09/96