In the church of my early childhood, a large copper basin anchored the corner of a large room adjacent to the sanctuary. It hung from chains in the center of a tripod of cast iron legs, probably about four feet tall. A curious thing to a child of 6 or 7. Why is it there? What is it used for?
Boundary Methodist Episcopal Church’s small but stately granite structure sat in the middle of a block of 42nd Street, a quiet residential street between two busy north-south arteries, York Road and Old York Road. Just around the corner on Old York Road sprawled Church of the Blessed Sacrament, its school, rectory, convent and sanctuary, a full city block of Catholicism. Catty-corner across the street from Boundary Church, Moran’s Funeral Home sat up on a bluff overlooking busy York Road.
My little church got its name from its location. At one time, 42nd Street marked the city’s northern boundary. Even earlier in Baltimore’s history, that distinction fell to North Avenue, about 20 blocks north of the city’s center crossroads — Baltimore and Charles streets.
My parents told me that the copper basin had been used in the past as a baptismal font. I never saw it used for anything until on one particular Sunday, it was moved into the sanctuary. Some men of the church prayed and spoke then placed some papers in the basin, struck a match and burned them. As the flames leaped up, the congregation sang a hymn. I was witnessing the burning of the church’s mortgage.
This image returned to me this afternoon when I received from United Church of Chapel Hill, our church for the past 19 years, an email announcing that a generous parishioner had written a check to retire the mortgage of United Church in honor of the 38 years of extraordinary service provided by its pastors, the Revs. Jill and Richard Edens, who will retire later this year. Our wonderful church is now debt-free.
Maybe we won’t burn the papers in a copper basin, but you can bet that this music-loving congregation will lift its voices in song to celebrate this joyful news together.