After years of meeting with community residents, Glen Mar United Methodist Church has cleared a key hurdle in its ambitious effort to build a large new church and school complex on nearly 22 acres of Ellicott City farmland.
Thanks to all that early talking, Glen Mar's ambitious plans met with little opposition from its new neighbors. The church recently won permission to apply for building permits after an appeal, filed by a neighbor, of the county hearing examiner's decision to approve the project was dropped.
The new church site is at New Cut and Montgomery roads, within a mile of Glen Mar's current 3.5-acre property off Waterloo Road.
Church leaders hope to break ground in the fall for the first phase of construction - a three-level multipurpose facility that will serve as an interim worship space for the 650 people who attend services on an average Sunday.
As a result of meetings with neighbors, Glen Mar was able to incorporate several of the community's needs into the proposal, including a new traffic light and relocation of what residents describe as a treacherous intersection at New Cut and Montgomery roads.
Working with the community is an important part of the church's mission, said the Rev. Andy Lunt, Glen Mar's senior pastor.
The extra space the new complex will offer is important because members of the church participate in many activities. "The whole focus of the ministry is that everyone is a minister," the pastor said.
At Glen Mar, lay people, youth and adults, lead services and preach. The church also has numerous youth groups, Scout troops and choirs in addition to a weekday preschool.
"One out of every 10 people in the church is in music ministry," Lunt said.
But finding the room for all of them to meet is difficult.
"We turn groups away or ask them to meet at each other's homes," Lunt said. "Sunday through Thursday, we are just filled."
Five years ago, the church purchased a house across the street, referred to as the "annex," but it did not alleviate the problem.
The crowding is a stark contrast to the church's early days in 1954 when the congregation was so small that worship services could be held in the homes of members. Later, services were held in what is now Ellicott Mills Middle School before the congregation built its first church in 1955.
When Lunt joined the church as minister in 1979, fewer than 50 people worshipped there.
The congregation grew rapidly after completion of a 375-seat sanctuary in 1989. "Membership, attendance, everything doubled," Lunt said.
To accommodate the growth, Glen Mar bought the nearby land in 2000 from the Baugher family, members of which still operate an orchard and fruit stand on New Cut Road.
"I'd certainly rather see this than a wall of homes," said Donald "Bucky" Baugher, who lives on Montgomery Road next to the church's new property.
He and his five siblings inherited the land on which the new church will sit from their father, who died in 1999, just months after his 99th birthday.
Baugher remembers finding arrowheads while planting corn and other crops as a child on the hill where the church is planned. Now his 11-year-old grandson is excited that construction of the building might unearth more arrowheads.
The congregation felt so fortunate to find a swath of land large enough within the area bounded by U.S. 40, U.S. 29, Route 175 and Interstate 95 that it dedicated 10 percent of the land's $1.75 million purchase price toward Habitat for Humanity houses in Baltimore, Lunt said.
"Just finding the right site in Howard County we thought was something of a miracle," he said. "God was enabling us to build a house for ourselves" so church members wanted to build houses for others.
After buying the land in 2000, the church began meeting with community associations and immediate neighbors to ensure that the project met the needs of the area as well as the congregation.
One key suggestion was for the new traffic light and redesign of New Cut Road so that it intersects with Montgomery Road opposite Brampton Parkway. The church will build part of the road, which will connect the main entrance of the church to Montgomery Road.
Other parts of the project, including the location of parking and playing fields, changed with residents' input. "We have been convinced right from the start that it doesn't have to be an adversarial relationship," Lunt said.
Neighbors testified in support of the project when it went before the county hearing examiner in September.
Church leaders are now trying to identify how much of the project can be constructed at once.
The proposal includes plans for a 230-seat chapel for weddings and funerals, two three-level classroom and administrative buildings and a main sanctuary that will seat more than 900, Lunt said. "We don't know how much will be built at what time," he said.
Lunt expects the congregation to expand with the construction because of "pent-up growth."
"We believe we could have more people to worship here if we had more space," he said.
The congregation pledged $2.25 million in a capital campaign last year. Lunt said church members are prepared to expect additional campaigns every three years until the final phase can be built.
Glen Mar hopes to celebrate Christmas 2004 in the new building - the church's 50th-anniversary year. The year is special for Lunt as well: It will be his 25th anniversary as pastor.
On Easter, however, members will celebrate their new home as they have each year since purchasing the land: with a sunrise service on the hill under a cross that marks the spot where the congregation expects to worship for generations to come.