When the Rev. Carl A. Pierce Sr. of Carter Memorial Church first walked into St. Peter the Apostle Church three years ago, he saw the carved angels, a statue of the patron saint standing over the altar and a pipe organ in the balcony.
But Pierce also saw something else in the vacated church, he said.
He envisioned himself walking into what would become his church’s new ministry campus.
“Something just leaped in my spirit,” Pierce said during a recent interview. “I knew immediately that that was our home. I saw the building transformed. I saw it alive. I saw worship. I saw activity. I immediately saw it.”
After 58 years at its current location, Carter Memorial Church of God In Christ, a Pentecostal church, will move into its new edifice, the former St. Peter, the city’s second-oldest Catholic church, on Dec. 29 at 11 a.m.
Members of Carter will gather at the church’s current location on West Fayette Street for prayer before going over (some in cars, some on foot) to the 13 South Poppleton Street building for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and Sunday morning service.
“I’m just so excited,” said Bricen Tate, who lives in Washington D.C. and began attending Carter in 2011 during his junior year at Morgan State University. “It is always something when you believe in a vision and the vision comes to pass. It says something about the ministry.”
Pierce, who became the pastor of Carter in 2000 after the death of the former pastor, Bishop Frank J. Ellis, originally envisioned expanding the church’s current facility. But it later became clear, he said, that the church did not have space to grow sufficiently.
“Our plot of ground was not substantial enough to house what we were attempting to do,” Pierce said.
He later learned that St. Peter, which had experienced years of declining attendance, was up for sale. The 170-year-old church, where Babe Ruth was baptized, is listed on the National Historic Registry.
The exterior of the church is protected by local and national historic preservation laws and Pierce said that the upgrades made to the interior of the facility take the building to “another level of splendor and beauty.”
“Any individual that was a member of St. Peter the Apostle Church, I believe, will walk in that building and be most impressed,” he said.
The ministry complex includes several buildings that will be used for additional worship and ministry space, a “power center,” that will house activities for the youth and programs for community outreach.
“I know this is a God-thing, something we were meant to have,” said Jonathan Shepherd, who joined Carter in 2009 while doing his fellowship at Johns Hopkins. “There’s just so much that can be done with the property.”
Unlike other churches that expand into the suburbs, Pierce said he was committed to remaining in the heart of Baltimore.
“We’re vested here,” he said, noting that the church was founded by the Rev. James Carter more than six decades ago in the Poppleton community. “I’m a firm believer that God has called us to be an inner-city ministry that ministers healing, hope, love, forgiveness, guidance [and] encouragement to persons in Baltimore and, of course, the surrounding counties.”
Pierce said he has been humbled to see how members, even those who were married, memorialized loved ones and were baptized at Carter, have embraced the move.
Carter will hold a “homecoming” service on Sunday, Dec. 22, at 5 p.m. for family and friends to come together to celebrate the church’s past and its future. Former members and pastors who began their ministries at the church over the last few decades are expected to attend the final service in Carter’s building on West Fayette Street.
For some, it will be a bittersweet moment.
Yvette Brooks, who has been a member of Carter for more than 35 years, said: “It’s like moving from your childhood home after being there for all your life. But it’s a good thing. Change is good.”
Alicia Lewis, 45, who has also attended Carter since she was a child, said she will miss the church building that she grew up in but realizes that Carter is outgrowing its current location.
Lewis remembers when Pierce became pastor of Carter following Ellis’ death and said she has watched the church flourish under his leadership.
Lewis said of Pierce: “He has such an open heart, and that’s what people are looking for.”
Years ago, Lewis taught Vacation Bible School in the balcony of the church because of limited space. Hers wasn’t the only class in the balcony, she said.
Lewis, who grew up in the Poppleton community, said she is looking forward to the move because it will enable the church to “do what we need to do for the neighborhood. It’s hard to do all we want to do in a small location.”