It's hard to imagine that a little party could help bridge a centuries-long divide between two neighboring Pimlico churches.
But that's what members of St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Episcopal Church of the Holy Nativity were hoping for when they held a joint celebration yesterday.
The two congregations worshiped together, first at Holy Nativity, then two blocks away at St. John's, and they prayed together at the site of a redevelopment project located squarely between the two churches, before sharing a fellowship dinner.
The occasion celebrated a formal accord inaugurated in January between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church, USA, which instituted full communion between the two denominations.
The agreement is not a merger of the two bodies, but provides for closer collaboration between them, allowing Episcopal and Lutheran churches to exchange clergy and to cooperate in service and mission projects.
The agreement, "Called to Common Mission," recognized that the two Christian denominations share common theological roots.
Locally, it allows the Rev. Victoria R. Sirota, priest at Holy Nativity, to deliver the liturgy at St. John's Church, where the Rev. Gregory Knepp serves. And vice versa.
"We have more in common than not," said Sirota, who welcomed the national agreement that bridges hundreds of years of differences between the churches.
Yesterday, the two congregations also wanted to celebrate state funding for a joint 2-year-old project to redevelop a stretch of vacant land in the 4300 block of Pimlico Road. "Together, we began to dream and vision about the possibilities of redeveloping some of those properties to address the social, economic and spiritual needs of the people," Knepp said in a statement.
The Holy Nativity-St. John's Development Corp. was created in 1999 to raise money for a $2.4 million youth arts and community center. The organization received $750,000 in seed money for the project this spring after the state legislature approved a bond award. Organizers are seeking additional funding to break ground later this year, Sirota said.
Eventually, the center will house after-school programs, summer camps and the Park Heights Family Support Center. Other possible tenants include a Head Start program and a TWIGS outreach program that provides free instrumental music instruction to neighborhood children.
"Looking at my own kids, who are so advantaged, what they get when they step out on a stage is applause," Sirota said. "That's what I want for our kids in this community. A place where they are appreciated."