Towson's Methodist Roots
Prior to 1839, there were no public religious services in Towsontown, except occasionally a prayer meeting at a private home. The first Sabbath School held in the Towson neighborhood, of which there is any knowledge, was a small independent school located one mile south of Towsontown, near the Rogers Forge blacksmith shop. A Mrs. Howard was in charge in 1825. In 1839 a Citizens’ Committee, realizing the need for public worship, started a movement to erect a union church to be used by all denominations. Henry B. Chew, owner of Epsom Estate, generously donated the ground on which to build a church. Located a short distance north of Joppa Road and east of Dulaney Valley Road, the ground was the exact site of an old arsenal occupied by the United States Government during the War of 1812.
It had been built by General Nathan Towson, for whom this town was named. The foundation and walls of the church were built of stones from the old arsenal. The little ark-like structure was 26 x 40 feet. On Sunday, November 10, 1839, the church, which became known as Epsom Chapel, was opened for worship and dedicated to the service of Almighty God. The Rev. Daniel Helpler of the Methodist Episcopal Church officiated at the dedication. [In 1950, Epsom Chapel was demolished to make way for the shopping center now known as Towsontown Center.] A Methodist Society was immediately formed, and Epsom Chapel became one of the regular preaching points on the Summerfield Circuit; a circuit embracing a large portion of Baltimore County at that time.
In 1854, the Summerfield Circuit was divided; the Towson congregation became known as North Baltimore Circuit. The need for a parsonage was addressed. Dr. Grafton Marsh Bosley donated a lot, located at 400 West Joppa Road and the house was built. It was still being used as a the parsonage in 1950.
Towson’s First Methodist (Episcopal) Church
The Methodist Episcopal congregation began to feel the need for a church building of its own. Mrs. Mary A. Shealey donated the lot of ground at 622 York Road [north side of the circle in Towson]. On August 14, 1869, the cornerstone was laid. That night it was removed from its place and disappeared. Sometime between 1929 & 1932, the cornerstone was found near a spring in a meadow, south of the town. The stone was cleaned and replaced in its proper position.
At the session of the Baltimore Conference held in March 1870, Towson Church was made a station and received its first appointed pastor. After various financial problems, the church was dedicated on Thursday, October 30, 1871 and the small congregation of 86 took on their Christian responsibilities.
Lakeview Methodist Church
During the pastorate of Rev. Page Milburn, a branch church was organized. The services were held in a school house, which was “up the hill from Meredith’s Ford Bridge, and across the Gunpowder River in Dulaney Valley.” The congregation grew rapidly, and soon began planning a church building. Alfred G. Lee and wife, Fannie Herbert Lee, gave the land on which the church was built. The church, called Lakeview Methodist, was dedicated in 1893 and placed on the circuit with the Methodist Episcopal Church in Towson. By 1912, Baltimore City had purchased the property needed to build Loch Raven Reservoir, covering the village known as Dulaney Valley with water. From the sale of the church property, a pipe organ was bought from Moeller Organ Company in Hagerstown and installed in the brick church on York Road.
Towson’s Second Methodist (Protestant) Church
In 1861, a majority of the Methodist Episcopal congregation at Epsom Chapel decided to purchase a melodian to be used in the church. Some of the members believed it to be wrong to have instrumental music in the church. They withdrew and formed the Methodist Protestant Church. They worshipped in the Odd Fellows’ Hall until about 1867, when they returned to Epsom Chapel and worshipped there on Sunday afternoons. In 1908 the congregation built a church at Allegheny and Bosley Avenues. [The building was used by the Woman’s Club of Towson until it’s recent sale and now houses a State Farm Insurance Agency.] It was built of stone with a bell tower and eight stained glass windows.
Towson Methodist Church
In June 1952, the Second Methodist Church merged with the First Methodist and became known as Towson Methodist Church. The members of both churches voted almost unanimously for the merger. “…by pooling their resources and unifying their program, they can better serve the community and the Kingdom of God.”
The merged congregations numbered about 1,400. A joint committee began to plan for a new church building, which was to be completed in five years. The construction of the Baltimore Beltway cut off 16+ acres of land from the Goucher College campus. When this land became available, it was purchased as a site for Towson Methodist Church, ideally located east of Dulaney Valley Road and on the south end of Hampton Lane. In a message from the General Chairman of the building committee, T. Lyde Mason, Jr., he remarked, “...without progress a church recedes to a stagnancy...it cannot stand still. Hence, in a field of expanding population, the church must provide expansion of its facilities to meet the need. This in itself is a thrilling opportunity. It is true we are facing a tremendous project and to combine words from the Epistles of Paul and James, it will require Faith, Hope, and Work. We shall also need unity, for unless we are bound together in Christian fellowship, we shall not reach our coveted goal…”The Service of Consecration was held on Sunday, May 11, 1958; Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam, of the Washington Area of the Methodist Church presided.
Towson United Methodist Church
At the General Conference of 1968 the Methodists and Evangelical United Brethren Churches merged.
The first big change was the name. Towson’s congregation became known as Towson United Methodist Church.
The Official Board was replaced by the Administrative Board.
The Men’s Club, originated in 1949, was changed to Methodist Men at the 1955 General Conference and a general format of By-Laws and procedures were also instituted. The merger of 1968 changed the name of the men's group to United Methodist Men.
The Ladies’ Mite Society, begun in 1840, eventually became the Ladies’ Aid Society / Missionary Society. In 1940, the ladies took on a new name: Woman’s Society of Christian Service. Since 1968, this same women’s group has been known as the United Methodist Women.
The youth program, previously known as Epworth League until 1939 when the name changed to Methodist Youth Fellowship, became known as United Methodist Youth in 1968. The General Conference set aside the old structure and granted youth a more meaningful role in the church. Because of the success of an adult based committee formed in 1966 here at Towson dubbed SAYP, our youth found that they were already a vital part of the church and were making a positive contribution.
Symbolism Within Our Church Walls
Coming into the main church building from the foyer, one enters the narthex. The narthex has a very interesting history that reminds the worshipper of the sacred beginnings of Christianity. When the early Christians were permitted to come out of the catacombs and other secret places of worship and build churches, they had to instruct candidates for membership and observe them for their fitness. Until these people became members, they were not permitted into the worship service. They stood in the narthex which was separated from the service by poles or rods with cracks between them. They could hear and watch the service. These rods, which created an outer court, were cut from a straight rod-like plant, which in Greece was called “narthex.”
From the narthex, one enters the church “nave.” This word comes from the Latin word, “naves” which means a ship. The early Christians chose it because they thought of the church as the ark, or the ship of the Lord, in which Christians sailed together in the sea of life.
One approaches the altar on a red carpet, which symbolizes the path of the martyrs. The aisle leads through the nave and chancel to the area behind the altar rail, which is properly called the sanctuary or “holy place.”
The altar is tomb-shaped. When the early Christians worshipped secretly in the catacombs, which were also the burial places of their dead, they frequently used the tomb of some martyr who had died for Christ’s sake as their altar. Upon the altar are burning candles which represent “Christ, the Light of the World.” One symbolizes His humanity, and the other, His divinity. Banks of candles on each side light the sanctuary area for Christian worshippers. Flowers on each side are used, not as decorations, but as symbols of God’s power to bring life from the earth, just as Christ was brought forth in the manger and was later brought from the grave.
An open Bible is on the center of the altar. This is one of the great Protestant affirmations, because there was a day when the Bible was not granted to ALL people. On the altar is a cloth, or “frontal” that is changed according to color and season.
Towering over the altar is the central symbol of Christianity, the cross. It stands there, its arms outstretched and empty, symbolizing the power of the risen Christ over evil to hold Him. Its position is elevated, sending forth its message of hope to all who will see — “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.”
The chancel is composed of the choir loft, pulpit, lectern, and communion table. The word chancel comes from the chancellor, who was a person who performed his religious duties behind a screen. Today the chancel means merely that part of the church which is occupied by those serving in a ministerial way or in a liturgical way, such as the choir, organist, and collection ushers. The lectern (from the word “legue,” meaning to read), has for centuries been the station from which the scripture is read. The pulpit, symbolizing the station of the preacher, is on the right side of the church and is elevated above the lectern. All the stained Honduras Mahogany is finished with a trace of red stain. The Seitz memorial organ is a three manual Casavant of 45 ranks. The organ pipes screen, which covers the entire wall behind the altar, is made entirely from small wood members. Tiny dots, which appear on the screen, are crosses formed in metal and painted red.
Our chapel was dedicated on Sunday, May 14, 1967 in honor of Dr. Lewis F. Ransom, who was the pastor at the time the church was built. The painted glass windows of the chapel are West German mouth-blown antique. They portray scenes of events in the life of Christ, showing His teaching, preaching, healing, forgiveness, and resurrection. The first window is dedicated to Christian Education in the Methodist Church. Ever since the days of John and Charles Wesley, Methodists have been concerned with the Christian Education of their youngsters.
Excerpts taken directly from
“A Brief History,” Rev. G. Custer Cromwell,
Church Directory, November 1950,
First Methodist Church, York Road, Towson.
Provided by Wilbur & Wilma Parker,
former members, now residents of
Asbury Methodist Village, Gaithersburg, MD
“Towson United Methodist Church,
1871-1971, Methodism In Towson“
Mary Lee Armstrong, Chairman,
Kay Bratton, Crickett Fletcher,
John D. Hoffman, Edward Keilbar,
Dorothy Kinnear, Mildred A. Reed,
John M. Seney, Jr., Alice Snyder,
Daniel D. Takeoka, Robert L. Wilkinson,
R. Bruce Wood, Merle Yoder,
Rev. John Bayley Jones, Pastor,
and Rev. Clarence L. (Pete) Roark, Associate Pastor.