Historic church in fiscal trouble


For Civil War soldiers stationed in the area, it was a place to worship. In the wake of devastating floods over the years that damaged Main Street shops, the Ellicott City church offered storage space for merchandise.

Now Emory United Methodist Church, the 165-year-old stone structure that sits high on a hill above Main Street, needs help. Increasing maintenance costs and financial setbacks have put the future of the historic church in jeopardy.

"In terms of the spirit of the church, in terms of growth, it's great," said the Rev. L. Katherine Moore, the church's pastor.

"Economically, we're still faced with a lot of problems," she said. "It remains to be seen whether we can work it out."

Spaghetti dinners, luncheons and other fund-raising events in the past couple of years haven't generated enough money to cover past losses.

Confronted with a seemingly endless list of building repairs, church leaders made the difficult decision to put the parsonage on the market. It listed for $324,000, and is under contract.

"Economically, it was cheaper to give me a housing allowance to purchase a home than to continue the financial drain of supporting the parsonage," said Moore, who bought a home in Parkville.

"I couldn't afford Howard County," she said.

One of the church's most appealing features - the historic building - is also its primary financial drain.

Jobs on the church's estimated $250,000 to-do list include fixing the roof, which was damaged in a storm by a falling tree, replacing the mortar on an interior wall and repairing the hole in the rose window that overlooks Main Street.

Any repairs or renovations must be in compliance with Historic District Commission guidelines.

"We're a small church, and we have a very expensive building to maintain," Moore said.

The Rev. Louis Shockley Jr., the district superintendent of the Baltimore-West District of the United Methodist Church, said he is encouraged to see that the church has attracted younger members. But he also noted that its location, on a steep, narrow road, deters potential members.

"In a few years, this will be a stable, regenerated fellowship of people," said Shockley, who described Emory United Methodist as "the most perfect worship center" among the 80 churches he supervises.

The most serious damage to the church's economic health occurred a few years before Moore's arrival in 1997, when, according to church members, $200,000 was found to be missing from the endowment fund.

The church discovered the loss shortly before Moore was appointed as the new pastor.

Since Moore arrived, she has worked to address the church's economic woes. At the time, withdrawals from the church endowment accounted for 65 percent of the operating costs. In the past five years, church offerings have increased, and the endowment now accounts for 35 percent of the operating budget.

If the church had continued to rely on the endowment for more than half of its operating budget, Moore said it would have closed in 10 years.

"The strain on the endowment fund is great, even though we're accepting more and more responsibility for our expenses through offerings," she said.

Despite Emory United Methodist's financial problems, good things are happening at the church.

It is attracting more young members - couples, families and singles - many from new residences in Oella, just over the Baltimore County line.

Membership has remained relatively stable at about 150. But when Moore updated church records, she removed the names of members who moved, died or no longer attend the church.

The average attendance is 70, compared with 40 when Moore arrived.

"It's a very warm church," Moore said. "A lot of larger churches are very happy to have your offering but not your participation. Our church is open to members being involved and being a part of the leadership."

As part of its outreach ministry, the church serves as a food pantry site for FISH of Howard County and supports several missions. Members also make a meal each month for the Grassroots homeless shelter.

In its role as good neighbor, Emory United Methodist will serve hot drinks to late-night shoppers Dec. 5 during the annual "Midnight Madness" celebration.

The church's fund-raising efforts will continue Dec. 6 with a silent auction and tea from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

In addition to the auction, hot teas and finger food, a cake-decorating demonstration and a performance by the Nightingales, a female vocal group, are planned.

"We're a very vital, alive church," said Roberta Davis, a church lay leader and 47-year member. "We just need a little more money."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad