FROM HUMBLE beginnings, Long Reach Church of God has become a pillar of the community. Founded 25 years ago to fill a need in the community, the church began in the Hesperus Drive home of the Rev. Robert S. Davis and his wife, Doris, and it is now spiritual home to 1,600 members -- half of whom come from the neighborhood.
The Protestant evangelical Church of God denomination is 100 years old. Davis became a bishop in the church last year.
The congregation has met since 1985 in a building tucked behind Long Reach Village Center that is listed in county records as one of Columbia's interfaith centers. It has used the modern facility as headquarters for a variety of programs serving church members and the community.
"A strong church in a strong community equals hope for the future," says Assistant Pastor Robert S. Davis Jr. -- known as "Pastor Robbie." He is the likely heir to the leadership of his father's church.
The congregation's outreach programs, or ministries, include youth groups, a food pantry -- "Helping Hands" -- and addiction counseling.
Pastor Robbie, 32, and his wife, Robin, 29, have four children: Rhema, 8, Rhesa, 5, Robert III, 3, and Rhoyal, 1.
Reaching out to kids has become important to the church's mission. Youth minister Lakaiya Atwater organizes programs for teen-agers. On Sept. 10, she sponsored a program called the Motivational Game Show, aimed at ages 7 to 18.
The boisterous show, which consists of questions posed to the kids, was presented by hosts "Mr. Enthusiasm" (Kings Contrivance resident Anthony Dew) and "the Metro Man" (Prince George's County resident Anthony Murrill). Dew and Murrill describe it as a high-spirited, nonstop hour-plus of positive reinforcement.
"Each show is different, each answer is different and each kid is different," says Dew, a former state champion in track at Hammond High School who graduated in 1985.
The show, Dew says, adapts its programs to a variety of audiences.
The game show format allows Dew and Murrill to play off each other -- and their young audiences -- in fast-paced exchanges. Using humor, music and drama, the two-man team fires instructions that require the children to think clearly about things such as violence, drug abuse and integrity.
"Put the ball in the hole. Put the ball in the cup," Mr. Enthusiasm says to children holding golf clubs and standing on a putting green. None of the children are successful in their putting efforts, so one parent walks over, picks up the ball and puts it in the hole. It demonstrated to the children how to think out a solution based on the instructions.
T-shirts and other prizes reward the best answers.
"This is something the kids can get excited about," Dew says. "When you are entertaining folks, you can teach them a lot."
"It takes a community to raise a kid," says Murrill, a corrections officer at a maximum-security prison in Prince George's County. "I see the juveniles that could have been saved. They had nobody to help them."
The dynamic duo -- who refer to themselves as "action figures" because of their energy -- present about 35 shows a year in schools and recreational centers in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
The Long Reach Church of God has been home to a private school that has been highly respected in the community since 1992.
More than 100 children attend classes from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade at the Long Reach Christian Academy in the interfaith center.
When Phelps Luck Elementary needed academic help for children who lived near the church, the principal and president of the school's PTA asked the academy to help. In response, church member Debra Tolson sought donations from area businesses and grants to begin an off-site homework club.
Now in its third year, the club meets at a townhouse in the complex where the children live.
Tolson and other volunteers run a tight ship. After a snack, about 30 pupils get right down to work, studying and completing assignments with help from an adult volunteer. Membership in the church is not required.
The program has yielded improved scores on standardized tests for Phelps Luck. The kids are proud of their club. A summer youth program just completed its second year.
The church has begun to expand its role in the community by "mothering" a new store to serve the spiritual needs of all of Columbia, Pastor Robbie says.
The Columbia Celebration Center, a religious bookstore, opened on Sept. 11 on Snowden River Parkway.
"The dream came from fulfilling a need we have in our own community," Pastor Robbie says. The store, which is Columbia's first full-service Christian bookstore, plans to serve all faiths, the pastor says.
"We want to be ecumenical in every way. Books will be from every denomination and we will have Catholic and Jewish cards and other items, too," he added.
For information about Long Reach Church of God ministries, call 410-997-2088. For information about Mr. Enthusiasm, the Metro Man and the Motivational Game Show, call 301-379-3382.
There is still time to catch "Panorama: A Landscape Invitational," an exhibit of two-dimensional works inspired by landscapes at the Columbia Art Center. The show runs through Saturday.
Former east Columbia Sun columnist Natalie Harvey and the Columbia Association's Open Space manager Chick Rodehamel are among the local artists whose work is on display.
Exhibitors include Joan Bevelaqua, Al Bishop, Sue Anne Bottomley, Edward Brown, Hjordis Bruce, Kini Collins, Bernice Kish, Ann Aves Martin, Roberta Morgan and Stan Wenocur.
Gallery hours are from 9: 30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9: 30 a.m. to 4: 30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
The Art Center is at 610 Foreland Garth. Information: 410-730-0075.
Pub Date: 9/21/99