Christ Episcopal in Columbia to celebrate 200-year anniversary

When the Rev. Richard A. Ginnever first arrived at Christ Episcopal Church in Columbia in 2001, the history of its "Old Brick" church building — which dates to 1809 and was consecrated in 1811 — was immediately on his mind.

He wondered what he and the parish could do to show "a gratefulness to those who came before us and a hopefulness for those who come after," he said.

Two years later, during his 2003 annual address to parishioners, he spoke of restoring the building in preparation for the 200th anniversary of its consecration, in 2011, he said.

Since then, a grant from Preservation Maryland and monetary support from parishioners totaling more than $100,000 have brought about a top-to-bottom restoration of the small brick building. The stained-glass windows have been restored, the roofing has been replaced, the brass fittings have been repolished and the old church bell has been given a second life.

"We've taken it piece by piece as monies have been raised," Ginnever said. "It's been slow and steady, it really has. That's the only way we could do it."

But do it they have, Ginnever said — just in time for this weekend's anniversary celebrations.

The church community will host two performances of an original oratorio composed by Columbia resident Thomas Benjamin and performed in part by the Columbia Pro Cantare, as well as a recreation of the original consecration of Old Brick presided over by the Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

Ginnever said he and the rest of the church community are eagerly awaiting the events.

"Almost eight years of planning, and it's just around the corner, so yes, I'm very excited," he said.

Ties to history

Built by local brick and timber craftsman during a time of transition for the Episcopal Church, when coffers were low and parishioners were spread out over broad swaths of countryside, the Old Brick church is relatively "small and plain," according to the church's Web site.

But it is also the "oldest church building still in use in Howard County," the site says, and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978.

The church was built in a Georgian style with a steep gable roof and was a replacement building for a log church that was formerly on the property, one that served as a local "Chapel of Ease" for the rural churchgoers of the area, who would otherwise have had to make a two-day journey to St. Anne's Parish in Annapolis to attend services, Ginnever said.

The beginnings of the church community reach back a full three centuries, to 1711, when the first marriage was recorded in the church registry, said Stephen Alpern, chair of the church's historic celebrations committee.

Ginnever said the Old Brick church helps connect the current church community — about 250 people on average attend Sunday services — to the community's past.

"It's three centuries of worship and service in the community, which is extraordinary in our nation's history," he said.

In 2006, Preservation Howard County listed the Old Brick church on its list of the most endangered historical sites in the county, a move that boosted local interest in its restoration.

This year, the organization named Jenifer Johnson, the church's sexton, as one of its preservationists of the year for being "the moving force" behind that restoration.

Music and events

Alpern said brainstorming on what to do specifically for the anniversary began two years ago.

"What we wanted to do was recognize our past, which has been a very rich one, and we tried to think of special events to do that," he said.

What he and others came up with was the idea to commission an oratorio, a large musical composition similar to an opera in that it uses a choir, ensemble and arias.

The church hired Benjamin for the job, and Frances Dawson, a parishioner and founding director of Columbia Pro Cantare, signed her group up as well.

Benjamin's piece, now called the "Old Brick Oratorio," includes a narrative of the chuch's history written by Ginnever, Alpern and Ann Barnes, as well as a large variety of other inspirational pieces of music, poetry and historic quotes, Dawson said. A total of 90 members of Columbia Pro Cantare help to perform it.

"It's really a celebratory piece," Dawson said. "I would tell people they don't have to be church members or church goers to appreciate the music. The music stands on its own."

The church is holding a premier of the oratorio for church parishioners and their guests at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14, in its main church building, adjacent to the Old Brick church, at 6800 Oakland Mills Road in Columbia.

It is holding a second performance that is open to the public at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15, in the same building.

At 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 16, the church is hosting a recreation of the original consecration of the Old Brick church, also open to the public, Alpern said.

Sutton, the Episcopal Church's first black bishop in Maryland, will read the same words spoken in 1811 by the Rt. Rev. Thomas John Claggett, the Episcopal Church's first bishop of Maryland and a slave-owner, Alpern said.

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