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‘Church on the water’ reaches Baltimore’s Inner Harbor

BALTIMORE (BP)–Church planters Jay Martin and Larry Baker didn’t plan to make history when they held their first worship service aboard the Duchess of Pintail in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. They were looking for rental space for their new church, Breakwater, when they felt drawn to the docked cruise boat and unwittingly entered history.

The last time a Baltimore church met on a harbor ship was 1852. On August 10, 2003, the Baltimore press heralded Breakwater’s launch service as the return of the “Church Ship” after 150 years of absence.

There are other parallels in the historic connection.

In 1846, God inspired several men to take the Good News of Jesus Christ to sailors who might never walk into a church built on land. They towed the decommissioned merchant ship “William Penn” into the Inner Harbor, repaired her and opened the Sailors Union Church. Soon the Church Ship regularly drew a crowd of 600 sailors whose lives had been impacted by a ministry that met them where they were.

In 2001, God inspired Pastor Jay Martin to leave a comfortable life in Greenville, S.C., and move his family to the Inner Harbor to reach professional people who might not walk into a church. He went where they were.

Thirty-two thousand people live within one mile of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. One hundred thousand people work there and 15 million people visit every year.

Prayerwalking was the first step. Gaining a hearing was next. “We became part of their community rather than expecting people to come to us,” Martin said.

He and his wife, Steffanie, joined civic groups and helped with community projects in order to build new relationships and share their faith. Martin and the new Breakwater team began impacting lives through acts of service to businesses and individuals around the Inner Harbor.

“Our everyday goal is to show people the love of Christ in practical ways,” said Martin, “We give store clerks snacks for their breaks and free newspapers to coffee shop patrons. We ask shop owners if we can clean their toilets and wash their windows because we care about them and Jesus loves them more than they can imagine.”

Cleaning toilets was not what Joey Bellamy, 46, expected to do when his mission team from Taylors (S.C.) Baptist Church came to help launch Breakwater. “It was a real spiritual eye-opener for me. As a systems analyst, I’m used to feeling a certain sense of status about what I do. Cleaning toilets showed me what it means to have a servant’s attitude toward others like Jesus has for us. It changed me.”

Martin hopes that Breakwater will provide a changing experience for everyone the church touches.

Named for a harbor breakwater that provides a calm port during storms, Breakwater’s mission is to help people find peace in Jesus Christ in the midst of busy, distracted lives.

Businesspeople and residents have responded to the message. Coffee shops from Federal Hill to Canton offer free meeting space for Breakwater’s small groups.

“The life of the church occurs in the small community groups,” said Larry Baker, who serves as small group pastor. “They provide a safe place where people can experience the love of Jesus and can grow in their own faith. It’s life transforming because we encourage each other to keep loving and serving others.”

People responded to Breakwater in other ways, too.

“I was excited to see so many people at the Aug. 9 pre-launch Block Party at Rash Field,” Martin said. “Many said the only reason they came was because they knew us through the acts of service.”

Local firemen brought a fire truck for the kids and police joined with the church to share child safety tips. Merchants donated prizes and 1,500 residents enjoyed a fun, safe day of free food, live band music and plenty of games and activities. A capacity crowd returned the next day for the church’s first worship service aboard the Duchess of Pintail.

“It was more than we hoped,” Martin said. “We committed every day to God and He did it all. I can identify with the guys who started the first Church Ship in 1846. They risked failure, rejection and financial loss, but they stepped out in faith and so did we. William Carey was right when he said, ‘Expect great things, attempt great things!'”

For more information about Breakwater, visit www.Breakh2o.org.
Alanna Davis is a BaptistLIFE Correspondent. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: THE GOSPEL SHIP and GETTING THE COMMUNITY INVOLVED.

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  • Alanna Davis