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Diverse church thrives in Hagerstown

January 23, 2000|By MARLO BARNHART

Late one night as he was leaving his church, Pastor Robert Griffin encountered a prostitute outside the 40 W. Church St. sanctuary.

"She told me how much it meant to her that she could always look through our front window and see the cross all lit up on the altar," Griffin said.

When Griffin invited her to come inside the New Light Metropolitan Community Church to worship sometime, the woman said she'd think about it.

Griffin said she hasn't come in yet, but he rejoices that he is the pastor of a congregation that would heartily welcome her into their midst if she does.

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"We've been in Hagerstown for four years now and we are mainstream," Griffin said of the church that prides itself on welcoming gays, lesbians and "all of God's children" to worship.

A member of the Washington County Council of Churches, the New Light Metropolitan Community Church is active in the community and boasts a core membership of about 40 and an average attendance of 60 or more each week.

Griffin has preached in a number of area churches and Congregation B'Nai Abraham, where he delivered the Martin Luther King birthday sermon a year ago.

In its present location for two years, the church is getting ready to expand. There is a sanctuary on the ground floor and offices and meeting rooms on the second floor.

"Saturday, Feb. 12, we are having a building dedication at 5 p.m.," Griffin said. That event will officially kick off a planned $120,000 demolition and erection of a new sanctuary on the rear of the building.

Troy D. Perry, founder and moderator of the denomination, which now counts more than 300 congregations worldwide, will be guest speaker.

A banquet at the Ramada will follow.

In what once was an automotive parts store, the church is in a more accessible building than its previous location on North Potomac Street.

"There were three or so rooms and we just kept knocking down walls as we grew," Griffin said.

The older section to the rear of the building will be demolished and the new sanctuary will be built in its place, freeing up the front of the building for other uses.

A lot of talented church members, like Charles Smith of Boonsboro, will be lending their skills in paper hanging or swinging a hammer when needed for the remodeling.

That is symbolic of the congregation's strength, Griffin said.

"We have become a church for all people, ... young and old, black and white, gay and straight."

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