[Diocese of Maryland press release] On Saturday, Nov. 1, at 4 p.m., the new community Church on the Square held its first service at historic 1025 S. Potomac Street, on Canton’s O’Donnell Square in Baltimore, Md.
After months of renovation, the leaders of Church on the Square launched a worshiping community. The church startup, a joint venture between the Episcopal and Lutheran denominations, is only the second of its kind (the first being Church of the Apostles in Seattle, Wash.)
Church on the Square, formed through collaboration of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and the ELCA Delaware-Maryland Synod, might just be a vanguard example of the future of mainline denominational worship. Serving the up-and-coming community of Canton, Church on the Square seeks to be a different kind of church. Neither denominational nor non-denominational, the leaders claim a multi-denominational community in which individuals are supported by their sponsoring entities.
Pastoral Missioner the Rev. James Hamilton recalls, “In my interview for this position, I asked both bishops—Lutheran and Episcopalian—which denomination this church should be. They said ‘neither.’ It was their expressed desire that the community not use language that could limit anyone who might like to participate.”
The church maintains that all traditions are welcome, and community members will not be asked to give up their heritage affiliations to be members at Church on the Square.
This change in perspective is connected to nationwide declines in mainline church attendance. With regard to its Lutheran and Episcopalian founders, both historic mainline denominations lost their footholds in Canton and had been struggling to establish healthy, self-sufficient communities.
Canton’s Episcopal presence, Holy Evangelist, closed its doors in 1996, owing to, among other things, an economic downturn in the neighborhood. Messiah English Lutheran Church was close to a similar fate when the Rev. Lee Hudson and the church council made the proactive choice to gift their space and remaining assets to a very different sort of church community, with the hope that a church more attuned to the changing demography of Canton would fare better.
“Our dream is to make this church building open to all,” says John Deason, development missioner for Church on the Square. “It is a space in service of the community of Canton and Southeast Baltimore.”
Saturday services will be progressive and contemporary. The website, churchonthesquarebaltimore.org, notes that “it will not be rare to have worship songs move from re-imagined hymns to top 40 pop to indie folk without any apology.”
Veteran church musician John Repulski took the position of arts missioner because of the deep creativity he could bring to worship.
“I love all styles of music,” says Repulski, “and have often thought that traditional church worship, while majestic, would benefit from variety.”
“Church is filled with people whose musical tastes are widely varied,” adds Deason. “Why should they check that diversity at the door?”
Though some neighborhood partnerships and programs have already begun—including art classes, running groups, yoga and others—many more will be added. The leadership emphasizes that these programs are not ancillary to the church’s mission, but simply different ways for Canton residents to be fully part of the burgeoning community.
“I find spirituality in fitness and meditation, in time spent with my friends and in listening to local music—not only at a church service,” remarks Emily Brown, a Canton resident and partner in the church plant.
“These programs aren’t a bait and switch,” assures Hamilton. “We seek to serve Canton through the generosity of Jesus, not to attract with flash in hopes of building a traditional pledging member base.
The Church on the Square hopes to add various children’s programming, partnerships with the nearly open Enoch Pratt Library branch (which is behind the church building), and continued collaboration with the Canton Community Association, to name a few initiatives on the wish list.
“We are trying to listen to our neighbors and serve them as best we can,” says Hamilton. “It might take some time, but we plan on being an anchor for a new, growing Canton.”
An open, creative refuge, respectful of all beliefs, the Church on the Square seeks to build community in service of the Canton neighborhood of Baltimore. Through addressing wellness and environmental issues; nurturing arts and culture; enriching our common life together through faith, spirituality and doubt, the Church on the Square seeks to be an inclusive home for you with Christ at its core. Please visit www.churchonthesquarebaltimore.org for more information.
Learn more about the neighborhood of Canton.