The Rev. Terry Schoener, the senior pastor at Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church from 1979 to 2006, passed away from a lung disease at the age of 85 on October 9.
Nancy Lincoln Reynolds, associate pastor at Woods Church and director of the Woods Counseling Center, shared how Schoener was her mentor, teaching her about parish ministry and the significance of embracing the community beyond the congregation in outreach.
“His approach to ministry has always been inclusive and caring,” Lincoln Reynolds said.
Schoener’s mentee said he consistently responded to people who complimented him on how well he wrote and preached his sermons that the focus should be on God and not him.
“He was well known for his inspired and faithful preaching, but he was equally well known for his sincere humility,” Lincoln Reynolds said.
There isn’t much on the church grounds that Schoener hasn’t impacted.
Sunrise of Severna Park
With input from the church’s congregation, Schoener conducted a survey of the Severna Park community’s needs and determined elderly housing was a critical need.
Efforts during the 1980s resulted in the selection of a property located next door to the church off West McKinsey Road and the establishment of the nonprofit Woodswise: The Severna Park Elderly Housing Corporation.
Plans for acquisition and rezoning of the property — owned by Anne Arundel County and designated as open space — were put in place. The county sold the land to Woodswise in 1995 for $1, which Schoener paid from his own wallet. Sunrise Senior Living agreed to build and operate the facility.
Ground was broken in 1996, and the facility opened for occupancy a year later. Within a year, Sunrise of Severna Park was fully occupied and had a waiting list.
Severna Park Community Center
The Severna Park Community Center was founded in 1995 as a gift to the community from Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church when it was purchased from the YMCA of Severna Park at the corner of Cypress Creek Road and B&A Boulevard. Schoener gathered church and community members to form what was then called Woods Community Center.
Schoener, along with help from others, put together a program of community activities, including art, sewing, swimnastics, water aerobics and sign language.
Lincoln Reynolds noted how Schoener was responsible for the current presence and identity of the community center, which now boasts a fitness center, two pools, three dance studios, meeting spaces, and a gym with basketball and volleyball setups.
Holy Grounds Youth Center
Simultaneously, the former St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, located adjacent to the community center, was converted into the now defunct Holy Grounds Youth Center. After two years of renovation, the center opened in 1997. The youth center was a safe place for teens to gather.
Inspired by a conversation with Faye Daniel, a friend and former principal at Tyler Heights Elementary School in Annapolis, Schoener, along with Brenda Schoener, his wife at the time, founded the Backpack Buddies of Anne Arundel County. The program identifies children at risk of having food insufficiency over the weekends. Volunteers sponsored a child, and a team went to Tyler Heights to pack food in backpacks for the weekend. The program continues at Annapolis Middle School.
Civil Rights Leadership
Schoener was involved in 1964 voter registration efforts in Mississippi. He recalled one night when Ku Klux Klan members surrounded their small, rural church with burning torches and threatened to shoot anyone who came out.
“The church was torched with us inside,” Schoener had previously said. “When the smoke and heat became unbearable, we held hands and staggered out into the night. By the mercy of God, the Klan was gone. I keep a melted piece of that church's window near me always to remember the power of evil and how it attacks churches."
Martin Luther King Jr. occasionally used Schoener’s civil rights office in Cleveland for meetings and press events.
“I think Terry's greatest legacy is his faithfulness to God and the unfolding of that into actions of justice, peace and service,” Lincoln Reynolds said.
Halle Schoener Randles said she treasures the life provided by her dad and her mom, who passed away in 2015.
“[He] taught my brothers and me such important lessons by word and action — peace, listening, standing up for the oppressed, honesty, hard work, focus on family, commitment in marriage, making memories and making a difference,” Schoener Randles said. “All of these through faith.”
Schoener is survived by his wife, Sally Schofield, along with three children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.