Tiny church has costly problem

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Banneker Christian Community Church and the Gyung Hyang Garden Presbyterian Church sit about 100 yards apart on Route 108 near Howard High School. The churches are caught in a bind that, seemingly, only money can solve.

Banneker, which has been at its location since about 1902, is a one-room church that can seat no more than 35 to 40 people. Gyung Hyang is a rapidly growing church that serves 150 people and wants to expand.

The Presbyterian church owns the land that Banneker sits on, having bought it from Mount Pisgah African Methodist Episcopal about 10 years ago with an eye toward expansion, and has asked the small congregation to move its building.

Officials from both churches agree that the solution lies in moving Banneker to property owned by its pastor, the Rev. Lawrence Williams Jr., about one-tenth of a mile away and visible from the current site. Paying for the move is another story.

Williams said moving the building would cost about $32,000 and that getting that kind of money from his congregation of about two dozen would be difficult.

The Rev. Nathan Hahn of Gyung Hyang said his congregation would like to begin expanding by July and would consider giving Banneker up to $10,000.

"We're willing to help them," Hahn said. "We want to help them move."

Banneker owns the building, which Gyung Hyang gave to it about seven years ago, and has talked with county officials, who are checking on whether state grants could help defray the moving costs.

In addition, Williams said, he'll work to raise funds from Banneker families.

Williams said Banneker has found a company to move the church and has a place to move it to. Now, it needs to find the money.

"We're starting to make some headway," Williams said.

Banneker understands what Gyung Hyang wants to do and has no objection, he said. It just wants its neighbors to be patient while Banneker finds the money needed.

"They have a beautiful facility that they want to build," Williams said. "I can't blame them for wanting to expand."

Banneker hasn't expanded since opening at the start of the 20th century. The white building's cornerstone says June 1901, and the one-story church looks like an old schoolhouse.

But it looks like a miniature church on the inside. There are four pews on the left side and four rows of chairs on the right. A piano is on the left side and an organ on the right side. The altar has bright red carpet and a pulpit in the middle.

The Rev. Gertie T. Williams, the pastor's mother, knows the history of the building better than most. She recently retired as pastor at Strawbridge United Methodist Church in New Windsor and worships again at Banneker with her son.

She sat in the church last week and talked about how much the building has been a part of her family. Williams, 68, said Banneker looks the same as it did when she started Sunday school there in 1941.

"I would love to see this church salvaged because it has so much meaning to me," she said. "This is the first place I went to Sunday school. My mother went to school here back in the early 1900s [as] African-Americans weren't given school buildings, and they'd offer the church to have school in."

The neighboring churches want an amicable solution. Hahn said his church doesn't want legal battles. If Banneker can't come up with the needed funds, he said, his congregation will try to change its expansion plans. Gyung Hyang has room for an addition behind its current building.

"If they cannot move it, that's fine," Hahn said. "If they cannot get enough money, [and] there's no choice, they'd stay there, we'd let it be, and we'd change our plans."

Williams said, "We're still having dialogue. We're still talking, and we're going to see what happens."

Sun staff writer Larry Carson contributed to this article.

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