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Brown Memorial Woodbrook merging, selling its property

Brown Memorial Woodbrook Presbyterian Church on North Charles plans to merge with Govans Presbyterian on York Road, the churches said today. Brown Memorial’s property would then be put up for sale.

The Brown Memorial Weekday School had already alerted parents that it is moving to a St. Thomas’ Church in Owings Mills for the 2018-19 school year. It has operated on North Charles for five decades.

“St. Thomas is a beautiful, historic church situated on 52 acres of land,” the Weekday School said on its website. “With its open fields and wooded areas, it promises to provide the ideal outdoor setting for play and nature exploration. Indoors, classrooms are light and airy, featuring large windows and a warm environment in which children can explore, learn and grow.”

Pending approval of the merger next month, the Brown Memorial property will be sold and the proceeds will go to support the merged church, which will be located at Govans’ property near the Senator Theater.

The Brown Memorial site is zoned DR1, meaning one unit residential may be built per acre of land, putting it in line with the stately homes on rolling hills that neighbor it on Woodbrook Lane.

Councilwoman Vicki Almond, who is planning to run for County Executive, represents the area. She has not said yet whether she would entertain a PUD application for denser development or even retail uses. A PUD, or Planned Unit Development, is a way for a developer to circumvent zoning rules.

A PUD is supposed to provide a “community benefit,” however, there are no set rules for what the benefit must be. There is also nothing requiring the surrounding community to favor the PUD, as evidenced in the ongoing controversy over the Royal Farms in Towson.

Brown Memorial is also home to the Kol HaLev synagogue community. Rabbi Geoffrey Basik said they are hoping to find a new location in the north Baltimore area.

Mary Beyers, a Rodgers Forge resident, said she will continue to send her daughter Phoebe to the Weekday School even after it moves to Owings Mills.

“We’ve kind of fallen in love with the program and the teachers and staff,” she said. “It is nature and play-based, so there is a lot of time outdoors and they let the kids explore while teaching them at the same time.”

According to a statement by the churches:

Govans, founded in 1844 has 185 active members on its rolls. Brown Memorial, with 98 members, began  in 1960 as an satellite of Brown Memorial Park Avenue  in the city’s Bolton Hill neighborhood and became in independent congregation in 1980.

Both churches have strong traditions of social justice and activism.  Govans supported the state’s successful drive to legalize gay marriage and both churches have strong histories of advocacy for LGBT equality .

Govans was also instrumental in the formation of Govans Ecumenical Development Corporation which eventually redeveloped Old Memorial Stadium. Brown Memorial Woodbrook has been a member of GEDCO since the very early years of its founding. Govans and Brown have also been active in mission work in Haiti providing support Neighbors Near and Far in their work there. For the past year Govans has also hosted a community dinner for the area’s needy each Sunday and Brown is looking forward to participating in that ministry.

Brown Memorial Woodbrook operates a substantial community garden that has been used to grow food for local food banks and will bring significant volunteers and experience to Govans’ own community garden and orchard.  Brown Memorial Woodbrook supports a number of local, national and global missions and ministries and the merged congregation will continue this support.

Brown Woodbrook also operates a successful community theater, the Woodbrook Players, which will be continued at Govans. 

The combined church will be overseen by a joint board, known as a session in Presbyterian parlance, made up of an equal number from both congregations. The pastors, Tom Harris of Govans and Randy Clayton of Brown, will serve as co-pastors.

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