Two North Baltimore Churches Take Next Step in Their Partnership

BALTIMORE – Three years after first entering into an unusual inter-denominational partnership of joint ministry and service to the community, two mainline Protestant churches in North Baltimore – one Episcopal, one Lutheran – have federated to become one combined congregation.  The church’s members now call themselves “Lutherpalians.”

The Church of the Nativity and Holy Comforter becomes the first such Lutheran-Episcopal federated congregation in Maryland and one of only a dozen or so of such partnerships that have been formed across the nation.

The two congregations first partnered in 2015, at a time when the former Church of the Nativity, Cedarcroft was approached by The Lutheran Church of the Holy Comforter, its neighbor a half-mile south on York Road in Govans. The Lutheran congregation faced unsustainable costs to maintain an aging, deteriorating church building made worse by declining attendance. While Nativity didn’t face the same building or financial challenges, it recognized the need to increase the number of people worshipping there.

There were some inevitable glitches in bringing together two disparate church families, explained the Rev. T. Stewart Lucas, who was formally called to be the founding Pastor of the newly federated church at a congregational meeting Sunday.

“But it didn’t take long for us to realize that we truly are better together,” said Pastor Lucas. “There is new energy and a spirit of excitement. New members have arrived. Attendance on Sundays has more than doubled. The singing is more robust, more volunteers have stepped up to offer help and more people come to coffee hour to connect with others and share ideas.”

He noted that one member had characterized the partnership as “one big mash-up,” adding that “you wouldn’t be able to walk in the church on any given Sunday and know who was Episcopalian and who was Lutheran. We’re all there, participating in the liturgy, coming to coffee hour, washing dishes in the kitchen and sending our kids to Sunday School. It’s everybody doing things together.

Since the partnership was first launched three years ago, Holy Comforter’s pastor, the Rev. David W. Eisenhuth, was called to a Lutheran parish in Hagerstown, where his skills in developing creative partnerships will be critical. To maintain a Lutheran “presence” at worship, a retired Lutheran minister, the Rev. Donald L. Burggraf, was recruited to serve as pastoral associate.

Pastor Lucas credited the bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and the Delaware-Maryland Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for permitting this experimental partnership to move forward. Already, other congregations considering similar partnerships, both locally and nationally, have reached out for advice and guidance.

“We want to be helpful to other congregations willing to discern whether they should partner with another congregation. We have lots to share from our successes and challenges,” he said. “We can’t solve all the problems ourselves, but we can be a model of how different groups can come together and be fruitful.”