Baltimore Sun’s BEST party in 2 weeks

Aberdeen historic church to get new life

The low-key white church dating to 1866 on the corner of West Bel Air Avenue and Law Street has stood vacant for two decades and has clearly seen better days.

The sanctuary has been allowed to deteriorate, and several congregations who used the property took a bell and pieces of stained glass when they left.

But now, two local men are busy getting the church back on its feet, and hope to see it brought back to life as a house of worship.

Leonard McGrady and his son, Patrick, bought the property a couple of months ago and have been renovating the church ever since with an eye toward restoring it as close as possible to its original appearance.

"We want to get it just right," Patrick McGrady said.

The building, they said, has a special place in both national and Aberdeen history.

It was the original site of Grace United Methodist Church (then Grace Methodist Episcopal), which is now several blocks east on West Bel Air Avenue, and was built shortly after the Civil War ended.

Patrick McGrady said the congregation was the northernmost Southern Methodist church in Maryland, although it was not clear whether church attendees supported slavery, which was the reason for the national split in the Methodist Church at the time.

The group that built the church in 1866 had split from Aberdeen M.E. Church, located at Grace's present site. The congregation built the current sanctuary, as well as the adjacent parsonage, in 1899.

Leonard McGrady said the church's history includes a number of prominent local families, such as the Cronins and the Bradfords.

"I think it's a big part of history in Aberdeen," he said. "You couldn't build a church like this for a million dollars."

The restoration could nevertheless cost several hundred thousand dollars, he said, and last a couple of years.

"This will be a big project," Leonard McGrady said.

The pair will put in new stained-glass windows and replace the carpet with pine wood floors. They are repairing a large organ in the main sanctuary that dates to 1926 and still works.

Patrick McGrady said he has already received interest from one church in using the space, but the McGradys would like to see a full congregation occupy the building.

"We have been really excited recently about the interest we have been getting from the community," Patrick McGrady said. "I am really excited about the community buying into it."

He said residents have been dropping in to share their memories of the building, which has helped in his attempt to collect more glimpses of church history.

"We have had a lot of people coming by saying they want to help," he said. "We have been trying to find people who have photos from weddings or baptisms or funerals."

To that end, the McGradys are also trying to track down pieces of the building that were given new homes.

Those pieces include a bell and stained-glass window of a crown that Patrick McGrady said are at Evangel Assembly of God, a central stained-glass window of Jesus Christ as shepherd at St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church and a hymn board that hung on the wall.

After the Southern Grace M.E. Church left in 1942, the building was taken over by the St. Paul's congregation until 1965. Two years later, Evangel Assembly stepped in and inhabited the church until 1991, when that congregation moved on to Paradise Road.

"It's really neat, the amount of people who have been in there," Patrick McGrady noted.

He said the restoration is costly and laborious, with the stained-glass windows alone being a huge challenge because they are "humongous."

His family, however, is doing the project without any help from the city or other governments.

"We don't believe that the government has any role in private enterprise like this," he said. "This project will stand on its own merits."

He wants the church to contribute to a sense of life in the downtown area.

"What I am hoping is this will be like a resurgence of downtown Aberdeen," he said.

Patrick passed along a comment from Ruth Peters, a volunteer at The Aberdeen Room Museum, who he said has been helping with the project.

The building, Peters said, is a "monument of not only the pain of some of our nation's darkest days, but also a testimony of the progress forgiveness and healing offer, for through the years, persons of all races have found comfort and hope within its walls."

Patrick McGrady said anyone who has information about the church or who wants to help with the project, can call him at 410-357-1234. He is also developing a website for the project at ChurchAberdeen.com.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
59°