By Beverly Richards
Special to the AFRO
Over the past 195 years, the Metropolitan United Methodist Church congregation has built a reputation as a people of God who just won’t quit. Their strength is founded on their faith in God. They believe themselves to be a persistent people, and because of these characteristics Lead pastor, the Rev. Dr. Howard Hinson professed, “I believe that the people of Metropolitan are ready to meet the present and future just as they met the past.”
Rich in history, the Metropolitan congregation that has served Baltimore City for 195 years was founded by Truman Pratt, a former slave. During the civil rights era, Metropolitan was a gathering place and headquarters for the movement. “Its pastors were among the leaders in the fight for justice and served as role models of the “beloved community” where everybody was somebody of great value and importance to God, the church and the larger society.”
The Rev. Dr. Howard W. Hinson (Courtesy Photo)
It could well be called a church beyond the walls. “Metropolitan has for all of its existence been a living church for the community and for the cause of Christ,” said Sonya Murphy, president of the church’s Women’s Organization. Her sense is that, in spite of this season, the church will continue to stand in the same way for many years to come.
Dr. Jack R.M. Pierce, who’s been chair of the trustee board for 10 years, is also the assistant lay leader and sings with the Metropolitan choir from time to time. He’s been a member since 1964, but his wife, Quanta Smith Pierce was “born in the church,” the way they tell it. They were married in 1967 by the late Rev. Dr. Frank Leviticus Williams, who was also a major activist and coordinator during the Civil Rights Movement.
Mrs. Pierce remembered her experience being indoctrinated as a freedom fighter.
A neighborhood family joins the pastor at the altar. (Courtesy Photo)
“We were told how to behave so as not to stimulate anger from the crowds. They would teach us to keep our eyes on the prize and to ignore the name calling,” she said. “We had to duck and doge rocks and broken bottles, but I survived with no battle scars.
“I was grateful that my mom let me participate. It was scary but still fun, although people were really evil and did not want to see us succeed.”
But she is proud that their determination paid off, “And I’m happy to be able to pass it on to the community and especially the young people.”
Metropolitan is on the corner of Carrollton Avenue and Lanvale Street, joining the others in what’s called Church Square. (Courtesy Photo)
The Harlem Park community, where the church resides, has changed dramatically. “Former homeowner residents have moved away, or died, and left the community with mostly lower-income renters or huge numbers of vacant housing. The overwhelming majority of church members are now commuters,” the pastor explained. The demographic change has greatly reduced church membership from over 2,000 members in the 1950s and 60s to just under 200 members today. “Obviously, this has had a great impact on the church’s ability to serve the community and to keep the building up to code,” he continued. But Metropolitan continues to serve as a beacon of hope. “We have an outreach door-to-door ministry because we desire to serve the current residents and so far, we have begun to receive a few new members from the community. Additionally, we have attracted Millennial age members, some of whom are new residents in the community.”
Ministries have adapted to meet current needs. They have a clothes closet to provide free clothing, a gym for teens and a computer lab with an after-school collaboration with the Harlem Park Elementary/Middle School. “And we offer learning, recreational, cultural and religious programs for community children and youth. We have many seasoned senior saints, age 85, mid-to-upper 90s and one member 102 years young who participate in various church activities,” Rev. Hinson said. The church continues to serve as a meeting place. Three non-profit organizations and various city government agencies hold meetings or are housed in the place of worship.
Rev. Hinson expects the community to grow. “I believe that Harlem Park is destined for a resurrection. That’s worth celebrating,” he said. The 195th anniversary, he explained, is simply a “tooling up” for the next 195 years. “Or,” as he proclaimed, “until Jesus comes in clouds of Glory; whichever comes first.” The congregation will celebrate the entire year of 2020. “The coronavirus has caused us to delay several of our planned activities, but life sometimes forces us to adjust in unexpected ways. We’re going to celebrate sooner or later, one way or another.”