Then and Now: St. John's United Methodist Church
A weekly column highlighting historic buildings in Lutherville-Timonium and how they have stood the test of time.
In 1869, the Methodists in Lutherville got fed up with the Lutherans. More precisely, they objected to sharing a single church building and alternating Sundays.
This annoyance, and their own industriousness, sped them through the construction of a new church, that was all Methodist, on Seminary Avenue. By May of that same year, the foundation had been laid, and by September it was completed. The new two-story wood-framed church became the original St. John’s United Methodist Church on September 12, 1869.
(The Lutherans remained in the original church, no longer having to share it – it’s known to us now as St. Paul’s Lutheran on Kurtz Avenue.)
Back then, the new St. John’s church was a Methodist Episcopal church, and as this it stood for 40 years. As the town’s population grew, however, a larger building was needed, and the original St. John’s was demolished.
In 1912, the St. John’s we see today was completed. A new hall was added in 1958.
With these old traditional roots, and yet with the need to look to the futures of today’s young people, the church has one foot on either side of a generational line.
“We try to treasure the building as it is and maintain it as it is, because we see it as a connection with our heritage and who we are,” said Reverend James DeMent, better known as Pastor Jay. “But at the same time, we’re updating it to more of a contemporary worship setting.”
DeMent is serious about updating the church and connecting with young people to keep them in his flock. “I would call our service a blended service,” said DeMent. “We’ll sing ‘Old Rugged Cross,’ and then sing ‘Lord Lift Your Name on High.’” For those who are not familiar with the hymnal, “Old Rugged Cross,” was written in 1865, while the second song was written just a few years ago.
“It makes the whole service, so whether you’re young or old you have something to connect with,” said DeMent.
St. John’s hosts Boy Scout meetings and a Jazzercize class, provides space for AA meetings and houses a day care. The day care, specifically, is a focus for DeMent and the new forward-thinking ways of St. John’s.
He explained how the church has finally become very welcoming of the day care that it houses, seeing the children there as potentially the future of the church, rather than simply an organization that takes up space. The church had become more of a landlord, lamented DeMent, and not a church. “So we stepped back and took a look at that.”
DeMent and his congregation put their Valentines where their mouths are.
“Just this week, the church got together and made these little gifts to give to all the kids in the day care,” DeMent said. “We want them to know that they’re welcome here.”
DeMent also focuses on the kids who attend Sunday school. “Our whole Sunday school program this fall started taking on an eco-friendly theme,” he enthused. “So we’re learning about ecology in the midst of God’s presence! We’re dong a lot of things in the Sunday school to recycle, reuse, and repurpose.”
“Everything’s going green!” he added. And everything’s coming up roses, one might also add, with so many welcoming and positive changes, keeping St. John’s doors open to new and future generations.