Plan for Cross Shakes Columbia to Its Core Values

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Now, one congregation's plan to place a 16-foot cross on a new building at the town's oldest interfaith center in Wilde Lake Village has stirred an anxious response. Some guardians of local tradition see the cross as a challenge to the core values of Columbia.

"I think it's just wrong," said Robert Tennenbaum, a planner and architect who helped design Wilde Lake. "This is Columbia -- you are talking about a special place."

Since the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center opened in 1970 with a feast of bread and honey, St. John United Church and St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church have shared the discreet low building, which has no outer markings to distinguish it as a house of worship. But after several years of planning and fundraising, St. John United, a congregation that melds Methodist and Presbyterian traditions, is expanding to provide more room for its flock.

The Rev. R. Whitfield "Whitty" Bass, pastor of St. John United, said he doesn't see why anyone would be offended by a cross on the exterior of a building. "The cross is a symbol of freedom," he said.

But others feel just as strongly that the cross will be an offense to the idea of interfaith centers as sanctuaries of inclusion.

"A number of people are really disturbed about it," said Rhoda Toback, a village resident and former member of the Wilde Lake Village Board.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchLaw & Legal IssuesReligion & Culture

Posted May 14, 2008 at 5:29 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Irenaeus wrote:

There goes the neighborhood!

May 14, 5:51 am | [comment link]
2. Cathy_Lou wrote:

Sounds like the groups are at cross purposes.

May 14, 8:04 am | [comment link]
3. Dick Mitchell wrote:

Thanks, Kendall, for the posting.  As a longtime resident of Columbia, I get a kick out of these cross-cultural issues.  And I am pleased that the United Church felt strongly enough about it to put the cross on the structure—basically to designate the space as a church rather than an anonymous multi purpose building (which is often how the interfaith buildings appear).
  I think Jim Grubb is on target completely about the weaknesses of much of the ecumenical movement, and I am pleased the POST chose to interview him.  You do realize, don’t you, that Jim is Bishop MacBurney’s son? 
  Howard County is well covered by Episcopal Churches, and there are no Episcopal congregations participating in the interfaith program.

May 14, 9:01 am | [comment link]
4. C. Wingate wrote:

Ah, Columbia: land of fading ‘60s idealism. The article leaves out a big part of the picture, which is that Columbia only really consists of the land which is under covenants giving the Columbia Association control over the development of the land. Since they weren’t successful in buying everything up, there are of course the pre-existing churches within and on the fringes; but there are also parcels embedded in convenanted land which are not subject to CA control. In several cases congregations have succeeded in buying these and erecting conventional churches. A check here of the interfaith centers reveals that of the four, one houses a single congregation and another (the one in this story) houses only two. The others have a mishmash of little groups; meanwhile there is a ring of Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, and Episcopal parishes, plus a huge Catholic parish a short ways west in Clarksville.

Columbia was born in a fit of social engineering, and a lot of the early facilities have been seriously reworked. The original schools, for instance, were built according to the “open plan” fad of the day; they’ve all been reworked into conventional classrooms. The village centers, as the article admits, have not weathered well, and so far two of the grocery stores have simply been torn down, and at least one of the others has been radically expanded. Meanwhile the east side of Columbia has seen massive outbursts of big box retail construction, punctuated by a long series of strip malls. This area was originally planned to be the industrial quarter, and there used to be a huge GE appliance plant here. The plant is long gone, and land it occupied is now being filled in with a lot of commercial and office buildings.

May 14, 9:45 am | [comment link]
5. C. Wingate wrote:

I would add that the only Episcopal parish that is sort-of in Columbia—Christ Church—is a beneficiary of holding property from long before Columbia was a gleam in Jim Rouse’s eye.

May 14, 9:49 am | [comment link]
6. BCP28 wrote:

Why I live in the City.  Nothing else to say.  Randall

May 14, 4:56 pm | [comment link]
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