By Sharon Mager, For Embrace Baltimore
PERRY HALL, Md.—Embrace Baltimore, now in its final stage, had a staff appreciation lunch on Sept. 12 at White Marsh Church. The bittersweet occasion brought Baltimore pastors and Embrace staff together to relax, fellowship and to share how God has blessed Baltimore churches through the Strategic Focus Initiative/partnership.
After an icebreaker Embrace trivia game and a lunch of Heavenly Ham sandwiches, pastors began to share how God was blessing through Embrace.
Tinney Parrish, pastor of Tabernacle Church, Essex, said it was later in the afternoon and he was ready to head home when Theresa Sassard, executive office administrator, called and wanted to send over a potential partnership mission team.
“Theresa did not take no for an answer,” Parrish said with a smile. But that meeting changed Parrish’s life. That was the start of a wonderful relationship, both with the mission team and with Embrace.
“I thought everything was fine,” Parrish said. “The Embrace staff helped me see my community in a way I’ve never seen it before. In two years, because of all of you, I am different,” Parrish said.
Parrish told of a mission trip to Dover, Va., that he and several church members participated in along with Bill Cochran, pastor of First Church, Lansdowne, and Ed Reece, pastor of Hazelwood Church and team members from those churches. After receiving help from outside churches, the Baltimore churches were giving back. Parrish’s daughter was part of the team.
“My daughter now wants to be part of missions,” Parrish said. “You guys mean so much to me,” he told the Embrace staff. “Thank you.”
Chris Gudmundsson, pastor of First Church, Dundalk, said that a decade ago, some in the church felt a bit fearful or resentful about how the city’s problems with drugs, crime and other ills were spilling over into the Dundalk community. The pastor told his church then, “A sovereign God is bringing Baltimore to us. We can either fear the city as our enemy or embrace it as a troubled friend.” Within two years, pastor and church were fully engaged in helping plan, pray, and work to make Embrace a reality. Since that time, the church has hosted several highly successful Embrace-connected events and one family has made an entire house available for Embrace staff to live in.
“Our folks have and do Embrace Baltimore now,” Gudmundsson said.
Elwood Ulmer, director of Inner Harbor Ministries, said Embrace made a big impact on the Curtis Bay Feeding Ministry through the mission teams Embrace provided. Ulmer said he was touched to see one young woman from a mission team pray and lead a guest at the feeding ministry to Christ.
Fred Dyer, pastor of White Marsh Church, said Embrace provided not only help, but also opportunities for churches to do ministry. White Marsh Church partnered with Riverside Church in Baltimore to do a backyard Bible club in the park across from Riverside.
“It is good for us to see and be involved in this kind of partnership ministry,” Dyer said. “It was a really good experience for our youth. They had done backyard Bible clubs for our church, but to go out and partner with another church was great.”
Bill Cochran, pastor of First Church, Lansdowne, said, “In 2001 Lansdowne turned 53 years old and we thought we’d arrived.’ But really I had fallen into a model of ministry that maintained the status quo,” he admitted.
Cochran said the Embrace staff showed him that he and his church were looking inward instead of outward. When that changed, everything changed.
“We’ll never be the same because of you. I can’t tell you how much you have meant to us,” Cochran told the Embrace staff.
Robert McKoy, pastor of CrossWay International Community Church, came to Baltimore the same year Embrace was forming and immediately grasped the opportunity to get involved. “Not only have you impacted me, but you impacted this community. You impacted Owings Mills,” McKoy said.
Dallas Bumgarner, campus pastor of Grace Place, was preparing to retire from Elvaton Church when Embrace began. He went to a meeting to see how Elvaton could be involved. After speaking with Bob Mackey, executive director of Embrace, and Troy Bush, Embrace director of church starting, Bumgarner was introduced to the possibility of becoming a campus pastor for a Dundalk satellite church of North Arundel Church. Bumgarner caught the vision.
“You guys have given me fresh life. I’m excited about doing ministry again,” he said.
John Rudd, pastor of Reisterstown Church, said the true impact Embrace has had on Baltimore will not be known for years to come. He said that each time a mission team came to help his church, the team painted part of a mural.
“That mural isn’t finished,” Rudd said.
Bill Cochran sang “Thank You for Giving to the Lord” as a tribute to the Embrace staff.
Bob Mackey, Embrace Baltimore Executive Director, showed blue duffle bags with the Embrace Logo that were given to each Embrace staff member. He pulled glasses, a water bottle, a paperweight and other items from the bag. Mackey said somewhere down the road, he hopes one of the Embrace team, as they reach for one of the glasses, will remember their time in Baltimore with Embrace and reflect on how God worked and is working in the city.
In closing, pastors, wives and other guests laid hands on the Embrace staff as Matt Stevens, Embrace’s prayer team coordinator, thanked God for the staff and the ministry and asked His blessings and direction for the future on each of the Embrace team.