Timonium United Methodist Church
Timonium United Methodist Church, Timonium, Maryland
Our second daughter found her way to this church after a year or more of discontent with the indifference of another church in the corner of the world where she and her husband are raising their family. In a single word, the appeal of Timonium UMC was its friendliness, markedly different from the church of another denomination which was glad to have her teach Sunday school but remained implacable regarding the necessity of her re-confirmation. Whatever else may be said about Methodists (and I have said a few derogatory things myself!), they do for the most part practice their trumpeted tradition of the open table, the open heart, and the open arms.
So we spent our first Easter Sunday of retirement three hundred sixty miles from home among mid-Atlantic Methodists who had no trouble at all spotting us as Yankees. Not that we were strangers to the offerings of Timonium UMC: we had worshiped there three post-Christmases earlier. The associate pastor had been alerted to our arrival and insisted on repeating to everyone in earshot that I was a retired United Methodist pastor.
The Sunday schedule lists two services, a traditional one at 9:30 and a contemporary one at 11. Our daughter reported on what transpired at each. We opted for 9:30, the better to avoid the large projection screen, praise songs, and the absence of elements of worship deemed unnecessary and old-fashioned in the Age of Aquarius. The nave was jammed at 9:30. When it looked like we would be standing in a side aisle for the next hour, a woman of mature years at my elbow nudged me with an invitation to sit. She didn't have to ask twice. We shared a hymnbook and, after the first hymn, "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" (of course!), she whispered to me, "We sang that one well, didn't we?" Like I said, these Maryland Methodists are friendly.
Building: standard Board of Missions architecture circa 1960, pseudo-Georgian with a divided chancel and a nave seating about 450 worshipers... altogether a very pleasant reminder of the church in which I served most recently for twenty-eight years. There was no stained glass, and on this bright spring morning, with the sun pouring in, the windows to the East had to be covered with drapes, which did not, however, keep stray rays from slipping through and troubling a worshiper here and there.
Welcome: on a morning when traditionally everyone goes to church, I had half-expected to get lost in the crowd. But the associate pastor and a grandly extroverted lady named Billy had other plans for us. The senior pastor was apprised of my status and didn't exactly know what to make of me, since I in my blue blazer looked more like a prep school headmaster than Methodist clergy. Everyone we passed smiled, said, "Hello!" or "Happy Easter!" I would have attributed this generosity of spirit to Southern hospitality were it not for our experience with the aforementioned Christians of another denomination in the same region who were distinctly standoffish.
Music: handbells, adult choir, and soloist presented compositions that seemed to have been selected with the contemporary service in mind. That is, the music, including two of the three hymns, aimed for a simple musical sensibility. Perhaps the problem I had with the selections was me. The soloist rendered an evangelical ballad, "They Could Not Be," more like she was on stage at Disney World than in church on Easter Sunday morning. The congregation loved it. The woman next to me whispered to me again, "My she has a wonderful voice." That she did, only I would add, overpowering, overemoting, and too much like Broadway for my taste. The organist, however, unencumbered, I suspect, with accompanying the music at the contemporary service, played a rousing postlude, Widor's "Toccata."
Sermon: well, no, I didn't hear the sermon I had hoped to hear (see Essays: "The Easter Sermon I Hope I Shall Hear"), but the pastor did preach an engaging message on the initial reaction of the disciples to the empty tomb, "Afraid of the Good News." The text was, no surprise, Mark 16:8, the verse with which the Revised Standard Version abruptly ends. I could have hoped that an explanation might have been offered, if only for those Christians who prefer a different version with a longer ending to Mark 16. The family members I polled found as the most memorable part of the sermon an illustration about a plastic Easter egg into which Church School children were asked to put their special find on a tour of the church yard. A child with Downs Syndrome presented an egg which, when opened, had nothing inside. The other children, quick to dismiss the child as being incapable of getting anything right, were duly humbled by the boy's explanation that the egg was empty because the tomb was. I liked the illustration too, but I found it very hard to believe its authenticity. Pastor Crider is an able preacher. We'll hear him again on a less celebratory Sunday.
Children: young Christians were everywhere to be seen... but not heard this Easter Sunday at 9:30 AM. The constraints of an order of service on the most festive Sunday mitigates against a message for the children; but the preacher could have shortened his message and delivered his memorable illustration to the young of soul, complete with plastic eggs for everyone. I really don't remember what transpired on our other visits, but I suspect any integration of children into the worship service has yet to be accomplished at Timonium. I hope they don't wait much longer to do the obvious for young Christians.
Computer: I did not get to search the Internet for the church's website prior to the Easter morning service. Our daughter's computer is very, very slow, and we were far more interested in finding Little Mermaid statuettes (for granddaughter Alanna) to bid on on EBay, than surveying the Timonium church's Internet savvy. This morning (Wednesday after Sunday) I went hunting and quickly came uponwww.timoniumumc.org. But I advanced no farther than the opening page. I refreshed it six times to no avail. The only information available was the Sunday Schedule and three pictures. Since a flyer enclosed with the order of worship listed the website, it appears the church needs to give some major attention to this matter before Low Sunday. I went there hoping to find a church history and check my judgment about the age of the building.
Rating: three and a half haloes. We shall return and bask once again in the friendliness of the brothers and sisters in Christ in the town with the name I love to have roll off my tongue. Timonium... now say it with me: Tim-moan-e-um.