WASHINGTON – Survivalists have stockpiled food and water. Businesses have put workers on call and police agencies will have extra officers on the streets. Airlines and banks have assured customers that all is in order for the new millennium.
And Maryland churches, not to be left out, are busy making their own Y2K preparations.
As New Year’s Eve approaches, churches around the state say they are bracing for a wave of new members who want to have their lifestyles in order, just in time for the new millennium.
Church leaders say they have noticed a spiritual change as the country approaches a new century. Many churches that have services on New Year’s Eve are expecting larger crowds and more excitement.
“We don’t care what causes people to turn to God,” said Steven Nickens, a deacon at the First Baptist Church of Guilford in Columbia. “There are a lot of things that make people turn to God. Whatever works.”
People generally turn to their beliefs in God or a higher power when they are facing a tragedy or have doubts about the future, said the Rev. Herschel Martindale, of Oak Ridge Community Church in Columbia. And all the hysteria over Y2K has created an uncertainty about what the future holds, he said.
“Whenever you have a major change of that nature, there’s a little bit of concern,” Martindale said. “It may be that it’s connected with that (the millennium), or it may be that there’s a greater feeling of need.”
The Rev. David Deveaux, of Bethel AME Church in Baltimore, agreed.
“I believe sometimes it does take a crisis to remind us of God in our lives,” Deveaux said. “We also believe that God will take care of it.”
Even on a typical New Year’s Eve, Bethel usually has to turn away some of its 14,000 members from services so it will not violate the fire code.
The First Baptist Church of Guilford is planning ahead. Church members decided to move the New Year’s Eve service from the church, which has a capacity of 800 worshipers, to a nearby high school that can accommodate the 1,500 people or more who are expected to attend this year’s service.
“We have a feeling that since it’s the last new year of the century, people will come out more than ever,” said Nickens. “I just think it’s a general consensus altogether of where people think they need to be.”
But members of the First Assembly of God in Silver Spring are trying to downplay the significance of the last day of the century. They are calling their New Year’s Eve service Y2KPPC, for prayer, praise and celebration, and expect about 200 people to attend the service.
“We have a daily walk with Christ no matter what day it is,” said the Rev. Earl Moore. “You’re talking to a pastor who teaches a faith in Christ on a daily basis anyway.”
While the Immaculate Conception Church in Baltimore is holding a New Year’s service for the first time this year because of “excitement” about the new century, the pastor there also tried to downplay the importance of the new century in the decision to turn to God.
“I think it’s because of the materialistic and secular nature of the world,” Peterka, who is also the pastor of St. Cecilia in Baltimore. “More and more people seem to be turning to the Lord.”
Matthew Hotchkiss said the hype over Y2K has “really forced people to take a step back and take stock to what’s important to them and where their priorities lie.” Hotchkiss, national director of operations for the Joseph Project 2000, a non-profit religious organization in Georgia, said there is a spiritual element to that, even if it’s driven by panic.
But Hotchkiss said there is nothing to fear.
“We do not believe it’s the end of the world,” he said. “The sun will come up January 1, 2000, it is Y2K compliant.”
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