By Sharon Mager, For Embrace Baltimore
DUNDALK, Md.—Woolford Memorial Church celebrated 65 years of ministry to the Dundalk community with a dinner party at Del Capri Restaurant on Nov. 1. That celebration, a touching tribute by past and present Woolford leaders to God’s faithfulness through the years, was also a fond farewell to Woolford, as members knew it. The small group of mostly seniors voted unanimously to transfer complete ownership to North Arundel Church (NAC), Glen Burnie, to begin a new start called Grace Place.
“It was a blessing,” Chuck Thompson said of the unanimous vote. Thompson, along with Steve Dishon and Ron Peyton were the three deacons who had been keeping the church going since the end of 2007 when the last pastor left.
Woolford had the largest sanctuary of any Baptist church in the Dundalk area. It once held 700, but over the years the congregation had dwindled to fewer than 30 and most were senior citizens.
That small congregation got a spark of enthusiasm, however, when past interim pastor Jerry Wade led the church through “Purpose Driven Church” materials. Many members were excited and wanted to take the step of faith to become such a church, but a few members were reluctant. The church continued to dwindle.
When the pastor left, the remaining leaders felt God leading them in a new direction. The deacons contacted the Baltimore Baptist/Embrace Baltimore office. Each week Baltimore pastors, including many from the Embrace team, provided pulpit supply and encouragement.
While Woolford was struggling, James Pope, pastor of North Arundel Church was prayerfully considering the next step for his own church, which has continued to grow and now fills three Sunday worship services.
“How do you provide a solution without chasing bigger and better? How do you keep being effective and efficient?” Pope pondered.
He began exploring the multi-campus church concept and visited several churches using that model. He liked what he observed. He began discussing his ideas with BCM/D executive director, David Lee, who suggested Pope talk with Embrace Baltimore executive director, Bob Mackey. The two men, along with Troy Bush, Embrace’s director of church starting, met with Pope, who shared his passionate vision about the potential for NAC’s next season of ministry.
That meeting was the first to explore the possibility of using Woolford as the foundation for a new church start using the multi-campus concept.
“Pope explained that Woolford would have to turn the church and its administration completely over to NAC. Woolford understood and agreed.
Bush said it was exciting to see the remaining Woolford members come to the place of acknowledging, “We don’t own any of these things. They’re not ours…we’re willing to give them to NAC to use.”
As Woolford continued to show the desire for change, Pope and his worship team came. NAC worship pastor, Rick Holmes, led with loud, rock infused praise music. Pope preached as he usually does—in casual clothes, on a stool. Eighty others from NAC came, many on motorcycles, and they praised and worshipped with excitement.
Woolford members liked it. No one left. The following week, Woolford voted unanimously to go forward.
The new church had its first official service on Jan. 11. Dallas Bumgarner, who recently retired from Elvaton Church, is the campus pastor. Pope will be the senior pastor and the sermon will be shown on a video screen. A separate praise team will lead music at Grace Place. Bumgarner will provide the pastoral care including hospital visits, counseling and overseeing the day-to-day church business.
Pope said SBC leaders near and far are watching the church in hopes that it becomes a truly viable way to effectively and efficiently start churches and reach people for Christ.
That doesn’t surprise Steve Dishon. “Woolford was a leader,” he said, reflecting on the church’s past. “Now it’s time for Woolford to lead a new way of doing worship and church.”
“The men and women of Woolford, most of whom having already moved into that season of life of watching their grandchildren grow up, have given a generous investment into the kingdom of God and I think they need to be celebrated,” Bush said.