The Union Chapel United Methodist Church of Joppa celebrates more than 200 years of fellowship, faith and surviving the COVID pandemic while looking to the future. The community held a homecoming celebration on Nov. 6 after its 200th anniversary was canceled due to the pandemic.
Union Chapel is a small church with a big family, said Associate Pastor Danny Breidenbaugh.
“It only took a short time to feel the love, joy, hope and energy that this church has,” Breidenbaugh said. “If I can feel that as a newcomer, then others will too.”
In 1821 a log chapel was built on the present site of the Union Chapel. The chapel was used as a place of worship by Quakers, Episcopalians and Methodists. By 1859 the Quakers and bishops left the church to join other congregations and the chapel was left to the Methodists.
The current shrine was built in 1899 at a cost of about $4,000 and dedicated on March 25, 1900. The original chapel was used as a community hall and Sunday school room until 1948, when it was declared unsafe and eventually demolished. A marker now indicates where the entrance to the chapel was.
In 1961 the school building was added and the basement under the church was converted into a kitchen and classroom.
Before the pandemic, the church’s biggest challenge was maintaining the building with limited resources, said Kay Hannan, 77, who has been a member for more than 40 years.
The church’s congregation was strong for nearly 200 years before the pandemic because of the family atmosphere, said member Katie Smith, 89, who has been there for more than 60 years.
“When you walk in, you’re just welcomed and you know it,” Smith said.
For example, Kathy Lyon, 75, left her home state of Illinois for Maryland. When she arrived in Maryland, her new spiritual home was the Union Chapel United Methodist Church. Her church family has filled the void left by leaving Illinois, Lyon said, and she has been a member for 35 years.
“I left my family in Illinois to start a new family here in the Church,” Lyon said.
However, the pandemic is threatening the church because of its high number of elderly members, Smith said. More than 100 people used to be in attendance at the community, but since the pandemic, only 45 people have turned up, Smith said.
In response to the pandemic, the church began streaming services on Facebook. That response allowed the church to reach people it would not have reached before, particularly younger people, Breidenbaugh said.
“The pandemic has been kind of a blessing,” Breidenbaugh said. “Now we’re reaching people who might not have made it before.”
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The church also joined Mission Central Parish, a cooperative of 11 United Methodist Churches in Harford and Baltimore counties formed during the pandemic to better serve its members and communities where the churches are located.
Breidenbaugh is one of four pastors leading the church, including Karin Walker, Diane Crider and Ryan Wiggins. They are joined by a contingent of retired pastors and lay leaders who help lead worship in many of the cooperative’s churches. Although the governance structure is different from what the church previously had, the congregation has welcomed these pastors with enthusiasm, Breidenbaugh said.
Breidenbaugh, 31, has only been a member of the Church for a few months. In his short tenure, he was welcomed by the atmosphere and said he felt this was his new home.
“It’s really transformative to be here,” Breidenbaugh said.
This partnership and the influx of younger members into the Union Chapel United Methodist Church have given her hope for a bright future.
“We feel reinvigorated with Mission Parish,” said Hannan.