Union Bethel AME Church’s 11 a.m. service was more special than usual June 9.
The congregation celebrated 27 years of Rev. Dr. Harry L. Seawright’s leadership but the highlight of the day was burning the mortgage for the massive church building in Brandywine, Md. and 38 of the 55 acres the church sits on.
Amid dancing and singing, seven members of the building committee 22 years ago set the church on the path to occupy a $1.6-million property beamed.
”You could see how pleased they were when Pastor Seawright asked them to stand,” Pamela King-Williams, the church’s public relations director, said of the moment during the service when the pastor and congregation reflected on finishing what they started in 1991 when the decision was made to build a new sanctuary connected to their old church building.
Twenty-two years—and countless fund raising events and collections later to make sure that payments were made on time, the congregation is now owner of the building and 38 acres of land.
After realizing by the 1980s that Union Bethel AME had outgrown a tiny country church sitting on rolling southern Maryland farmland with steps leading to a center aisle in a crowded sanctuary building; Seawright shut down the church and started holding services in the nearby Gwynn Park High School.
Sooner than they expected the modern structure took shape and they moved into new digs.
They weren’t alone in their mortgage burning celebration. The 11 a.m. service was attended by Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, county councilman Mel Franklin and a representative from the office of Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
Also attending were Rev. Dr. Grainger Browning, pastor of Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, and Bishop William P. DeVeaux, presiding prelate of the Second Episcopal District of the AME Church. Both were guest preachers during the 7:45 a.m. and 11 a.m. services.
The visiting clergymen are old friends of Seawright. DeVeaux preached the last sermon Union Bethel had in their old church before the construction started on the new edifice.
And Browning’s relationship with Seawright dates back to their days at Howard University as divinity students.
“Not only is he a great friend he was there at the beginning of this journey, as a friend, supporter and colleague,” Seawright said of Browning.
However church officials said the expansion plans aren’t over, noting that plans are in the works for a fellowship hall, choir room and a concert amphitheater at Union Bethel AME.