CHURCH’S BIG DAY:

North­wood-Ap­pold United Methodist in North­east Bal­ti­more thanks fire­fight­ers

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Colin Camp­bell cm­camp­bell@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/cm­camp­bell6

North­wood-Ap­pold United Methodist Church in North­east Bal­ti­more cel­e­brated the re­open­ing of its sanc­tu­ary, three years af­ter a dev­as­tat­ing fire.

As his con­gre­ga­tion sang a spir­ited hymn Sun­day, the Rev. Ce­cil Con­teen Gray gazed up at the ceil­ing of his North­east Bal­ti­more church and mouthed a silent “thank you.”

Then he dabbed his eyes with a hand­ker­chief.

North­wood-Ap­pold United Methodist Church, a 72-year-old fix­ture at the cor­ner of East Cold Spring Lane and Loch Raven Boule­vard, was rav­aged al­most three years ago by a four-alarm fire.

“The heat, we’re told, was as much as, if not more than, 2,000 de­grees,” Gray, the pas­tor of North­wood-Ap­pold, said from the pul­pit. “That’s the heat that was in this place. The roof where you are now col­lapsed.”

No sign of the fire re­mained at North­wood- Ap­pold on Sun­day. Wor­ship­pers re­turned to new pews and sun­light stream­ing through the tall windows onto a fresh coat of white paint on the walls. A pair of can­dles and bou­quets of pink roses were placed on ei­ther side of a golden cross on the wooden al­tar.

Bishop LaTrelle Easter­ling de­liv­ered the ser­mon.

“It is my honor and priv­i­lege to be here with you this morn­ing on this won­der­ful, aus­pi­cious oc­ca­sion of com­ing back into this house of wor­ship, en­ter­ing back into these courts of praise, com­ing back into a place where, per­haps, you thought you would never be able to set foot again and wor­ship the Lord our God,” she said.

Kevin Hamil­ton was one of the 200 Bal­ti­more fire­fight­ers dis­patched to the burn­ing church on Dec. 27, 2013. Hamil­ton knew it well. He’d grown up on nearby North­wick Road.

North­wood-Ap­pold, Hamil­ton said, “has al­ways been here.” “And it’s still here,” he added. The con­gre­ga­tion thanked Hamil­ton and fel­low fire­fight­ers Chon Bunch, Michele Ch­ester­field and Eric DiLutis be­fore Sun­day’s ser­vice with a plaque and a stand­ing ova­tion.

“It’s great to be rec­og­nized by the com­mu­nity,” Bunch said af­ter­ward.

Dur­ing the ser­vice, mem­bers joined hands to form a prayer cir­cle at the front of the church.

Chima Okoro, the church’s fi­nance chair, told the con­gre­ga­tion he saw both the fire and the re­build­ing as a call to ac­tion.

“Where do we go from here?” he asked. “We have to work harder.”

The church was in­sured, Okoro said, but the to­tal cost of the dam­age is still be­ing cal­cu­lated. The cause of the fire has not been de­ter­mined.

El­iz­a­beth Si­mango, 54, still re­mem­bers the kind­ness that mem­bers of the church showed her when she moved to North­wood from Malawi about 25 years ago. She cred­its the church with help­ing raise her two chil­dren.

When Si­mango was in nurs­ing classes and her hus­band was at work, she said, other church mem­bers would pick up the kids. When fam­ily mem­bers vis­ited, a former pas­tor would stop in to pray with them. The church in­tro­duced the fam­ily to the Amer­i­can cel­e­bra­tion of Thanks­giv­ing — and even brought them their first hol­i­day turkey.

“This is a fam­ily com­mu­nity,” she said. “You can just call any­body. ... Some­times it makes me want to cry.”

Stephanie Hayes, 63, has been a mem­ber of North­wood-Ap­pold for more than two decades. She called the church “Home, No. 2.”

Hayes serves as the church’s videog­ra­pher. A few neigh­bors smiled and waved as they saw her and the other mem­bers walk­ing up the side­walk and climb­ing the front steps, Hayes said.

“It’s a joy­ous day to be back and see the sun shin­ing through the windows again,” she said.

An­nette Keene, 63, of Parkville, saw her daugh­ter and grand­daugh­ter bap­tized in the church as ba­bies in her 30 years as a mem­ber. North­wood-Ap­pold, she said, “was where I reded­i­cated my life to Christ.”

“It just changed my life,” Keene said. “I’m so grate­ful this build­ing has been re­stored. It truly was a home­com­ing, a new be­gin­ning for us.”

The church calls it­self “A Light at the Cross­roads” for its lo­ca­tion at the cor­ner of two city thor­ough­fares.

“I’m glad the light is on again,” Keene said.

COLIN CAMP­BELL/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Mem­bers of North­wood-Ap­pold United Methodist Church form a prayer cir­cle dur­ing Sun­day’s ser­vice cel­e­brat­ing the re­open­ing of the church af­ter a four-alarm fire rav­aged the build­ing in De­cem­ber 2013.

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