During services last weekend at Our Shepherd Lutheran Church, parishioners celebrated the first Sunday after Christmas, as well as their first Christmas season, in a new home at Oakland Business Park off Route 108 in Columbia.
For several years, the church operated out of temporary facilities at Burleigh Manor Middle School in Ellicott City, where everything had to be set up and then taken down before and after each service or church activity.
It was a difficult situation that required a great deal of scheduling and extra effort on the part of the church membership and leadership.
"Now we have a permanent place where we can set up things ahead of time, put up decorations and arrange the facility in a way that best suits our needs, and then leave it there," said the pastor, the Rev. George Lippitt.
"It's wonderful to have a place of our own," said longtime church member Carolyn Hunt. "It's like wandering in the wilderness and finally getting to the Promised Land."
Terry Johnson, convener and president of the congregation, said, "We love it. We have our own place 24 hours a day, seven days a week instead of for just four hours on Sunday."
Despite having been in its new home only a month, Our Shepherd has made a great deal of progress. The facility is in a one-story office complex that was, until this summer, used by the Chinese Bible Church of Howard County. Our Shepherd acquired the space when the other church moved to Woodstock.
The space has been transformed from a traditional office setup to a configuration that offers a number of rooms for Sunday school classes and Bible study, and a large room for services. The pastor's office is not finished, but nobody seems to mind.
"We are still learning how to best use the space," Lippitt said. "It's a great problem to have."
Having a facility of its own makes it easier for the church to serve its growing membership and to carry out the missionary work that is Our Shepherd's objective, Lippitt said.
"We want to bring the light of Christ to those in the community that may not know him," said Lippitt, "and this new facility will make achieving that mission a great deal easier."
Avenues for outreach
The church is developing several avenues for outreach to the community. Programs include a Vacation Bible School, and several Bible-based study approaches are under consideration.
Our Shepherd also has programs for children in kindergarten through junior high school, Kids in Christ and Children of the Lord.
Those programs, along with a weekly Bible study class that is designed for stay-at-home parents and includes child care, are open to the community. The Bible study class is held at 9:30 a.m. Wednesdays.
During Sunday's service, when parishioners were asked to offer Christmas wishes to each other, members got out of their seats and exchanged hugs and handshakes.
After the service, many in the congregation stayed behind to chat.
"This is a very generous and energetic group," Lippitt said. "They give of their time and their money helping to support a mission and orphanage in Lithuania, as well as helping to bring two Liberian families into the area and working to see that they are given what they need to make their way here in America."
The congregation recently raised more than $7,500 to help the Lithuanian mission build a rectory and other facilities.
"They helped others erect buildings even before we got our own place. That's truly remarkable," Lippitt said.
"If you are looking to join a church that is very community focused and which does a great deal for the community, then this is the place."