Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

New pastor has big plans for Sharp Street Church

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Naomi Brookner/The Gazette
The Rev. Kecia Ford holds one-month-old Marcus Whitfield of Sandy Spring during Sharp Street United Methodist Church services Aug. 10. Ford became pastor of the church in July.

The Rev. Dr. Kecia Ford is getting her feet wet slowly, but surely, in her new Sandy Spring community.

Ford was appointed pastor of Sharp Street United Methodist Church in April, and since arriving to lead services in July she has spent time getting to know the community.

For a new pastor, easing tactfully into what local historians says is the oldest African American church in the county is tricky business.

But come 2009, watch out — Ford has big plans.

"I have an overall vision that we will really hone in more at the beginning of the year," the 43-year-old pastor said. "First order of business, before dealing with the electricity and space [problems] … is hone in on our media …. People need to know what we've got going on in our little building."

Ford sat in a classroom in a trailer parked in the parking lot of the church while she talked about her new assignment.

She replaces the Rev. George Hackey Jr., a former Montgomery County police officer and long-time leader of Sharp Street. He was reassigned to Metropolitan United Methodist Church in Indian Head in a routine leadership shuffle.

Ford served as the associate pastor at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., before coming to Sandy Spring. Her last church emphasized evangelism, taking to the television and the radio airwaves.

Her first improvements for Sharp Street will include updating the Web site, putting out CDs, DVDs, maybe going on local cable television, Ford said.

"Maybe we can get on a billboard," she said. "They need to know what's happening here at Sharp Street."

Ford, who lives in Laurel with her husband and four children and has another on the way, is an adjunct professor and doctoral mentor at Richmond Virginia Seminary. She earned a bachelor's degree in behavioral science from the University of Maryland, a Masters of Theology degree from Andersonville Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry degree from United Theological Seminary.

"Already we've begun to make subtle changes because we're in a situation where I have to make decisions along with the leadership because we need more space," Ford said. "They're taking place as we speak. Big changes, but they're happening in a subtle way."

She has changed the order of the sermon and the layout of the Sunday service program.

"Even though they're small, these are major changes for the church members," she said.

For a week recently, the church sanctuary was without electricity because of wiring problems, forcing the congregation to hold services at a sister church. On top of that, the congregation has swollen in recent months to more than 120 members, straining the capacity of the cozy building on Olney-Sandy Spring Road.

Joyce Murphy, the church secretary and 12-year member, said there may be some resistance to the changes Ford has planned, but she is optimistic about the outcome. "Certain members [of the church] might be averse, but change is good," she said. "This is 2008 and we have to move forward. The change will be good."

Ford is buoyant about becoming part of the oldest African American church in Montgomery County, one she knows has established traditions and ministries. She said she's glad to be able to contribute to the legacy of the historic church.

"Absolutely, I feel like I'm now a part of this history," Ford said. "Sharp Street's at a point in its history where they're ready to start doing beautiful things. They're a gifted people, they're a talented people, a lot of them are educated people. They're ready to soar to higher heights for God."

She is not worried about ruffling feathers by introducing her new ideas into an established community.

"So far so good," she said. "You know, the first few months when a new pastor comes in they're surveying the land and getting to know people and getting to know the ministries that already exist. You have to make some sort of an assessment before we can put together any kind of plan or agenda that we believe God is leading us on. You can't put one together without knowing what you already have."