A choir will sing where school plays are staged and graduates receive their diplomas. Wreaths and banners proclaiming the Christmas message will adorn the walls and stage. The rows of seats in the Franklin High School auditorium will serve as pews.
For 90 minutes this evening, the Reisterstown school's auditorium will be a house of worship, not just a public multipurpose room.
Northwest Baptist Church, where lightning struck and caused a fire that destroyed the sanctuary in July, will hold its Christmas Eve service at the high school at 6 p.m.
Rose Karolenko, a telecommunications engineer from Glyndon and a Northwest Baptist member, said making the school room feel like a church will be a challenge, but an exciting one.
"In some ways it's good to get people out of their comfort zones and realize what's important," she said. "When you have a fire, whether it's in church or home, it focuses you on what is important in life. That brings out more of the Christmas spirit."
Moving the Christmas service is just one of the adjustments the congregation has had to make since the July fire, which caused at least $600,000 in damage, said the Rev. Gary C. Glanville, the senior pastor at Northwest Baptist.
"We haven't missed a beat," he said. "This hasn't hurt the spirit of the church at all. We've actually grown. We have added 50 to 60 new members since the fire."
Church members first thought lightning struck the steeple, but it hit the roof, melting the church's electrical system, Glanville said. Water, smoke and flames destroyed the interior of the 600-seat sanctuary, which was built nine years ago. It also warped the pews and ruined chandeliers, Bibles, hymnals and video and sound equipment, he said.
Members estimated that it would take three months to finish the repairs. Now, it looks as if it might take six months or longer, Glanville said.
But that's fine, members say.
"It's not like you can go down to J.C. Penney's and pick up 100 pews," said Baltimore County Fire Department Capt. Bob Murray Sr., a church member and commander at the Cockeysville fire station.
The roof has been replaced. The steeple has been ordered. And crews are painting the 33-foot-high cathedral ceilings.
Carpet and new flooring is to be installed next month, and the new pews are to be delivered Jan. 15. The stage is scheduled to be completed by the end of next month, and a rededication service is planned for Jan. 31.
Sunday worship services have been held in the old sanctuary, which had been used by youths at the 1,300-member church. Because the space is smaller, three services have been held on Sunday mornings instead of two, Glanville said.
The youths have moved their programs to a farmhouse the church bought recently, he said. And about 15 adult Bible study classes have been meeting in members' homes.
"It's pushed us out into the community, which is a good thing," Glanville said.
"For some people it may actually be easier to walk into the school than it is to walk into a church for the first time," he said of tonight's service.
Rather than the usual two services on Christmas Eve, the entire congregation will be able to worship together.
Murray said it will be good to have the service at the high school. "It's usually so crowded. I've always wondered if visitors don't pull into the parking lot and not come in because it's so packed," he said.
The church routinely has 800 people at its Christmas Eve service, said Mel Kindred, who is head of the ushers.