Dave Canatella was 12 years old when, in 1961, he joined the orchestra of a new Baptist church built in Perry Hall. Fifty years later, Canatella is still a part of the orchestra’s brass section, giving him a front-row seat to the community's many changes.
“We had a lot more young people back then, and it seemed like we had a lot more time to do the things we needed to do,” Canatella recalls. “Life wasn’t as rushed as it is today.”
The church’s mission, however, has remained the same, he says. “We still want to reach people for Jesus Christ, not only here in Perry Hall but through numerous missions all over the world.”
On Sunday, Perry Hall Baptist Church—embracing its claim of “Knowing God. Changing lives. Connecting with each other.”—held a music-filled, two-hour service to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Several charter members were presented with flowers after a brief telling of the church’s history. Attendees remembered the decade that Perry Hall hosted a popular Puppet Ministry, the several years that members participated in a “Singing Christmas Tree,” and the recent “Sounds of Life” radio ministries that are aired on Shine FM 95.1.
Many members of the congregation also smiled with the memory of establishing , which welcomed its first 29 students in 1971 and bid farewell to its first nine graduates eight years later.
“Since 1961, God has used our church to change lives,” says Pastor Jeffrey Hartman, adding that Perry Hall Baptist has enjoyed “a great past.” But it was no coincidence that a service dedicated to looking back also carried the theme “Behold, I will do a new thing," drawn from Isaiah 43:18-19.
“We pause to honor and remember our past,” Hartman says. “Even so, I’m just naïve enough to think that Perry Hall Baptist Church’s best days are yet to come.”
Since becoming the pastor in 2004, Hartman says, he has been “reaching out to younger people—getting them engaged and involved.” As a result, a contemporary service held each Sunday has outgrown its more traditional counterpart and the church’s children’s ministry continues to expand.
This all sits well with Vilma Armandt, who was among Perry Hall Baptist’s charter members. “Us older ones have done our part,” she says. “It’s a wonderful blessing to see all the younger people becoming more active.”
John Cole Jr. was introduced as a new deacon during the service. The resident has been a member of the church for less than a year.
“I’m so looking forward to what’s ahead next year and over the next 50 years,” he said. “This legacy of 50 years is fantastic. … Legacy and tradition mean something to me.”
It was 50 years ago that Pastor George Lynch, together with about 200 members of an Overlea-based congregation, relocated to Perry Hall. On March 12, 1961, the new church’s first service was held at a facility in the 8800 block of Belair Road. Then, 16 years later, the growing congregation moved to the church’s current location, 3919 Schroeder Ave.
“There were no homes on Schroeder when we moved here,” says Vilma Armandt. “It was almost like it was wilderness.”
The church’s membership reached a peak of approximately 800 members in the 1980s. Today, Perry Hall Baptist has about 350 members, but welcomes hundreds of guests for services each Sunday.
“I think we’re coming back now,” says Canatella. “Perry Hall has grown and we have the opportunity to reach younger people. We’re excited to continue our mission.”
Perry Hall Baptist 50-Year Members