Merger poses positive challenge
Social services will be the focus of the new South Side church.
By D.A. WILKINSON
VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR
YOUNGSTOWN -- Pastor Ernest L. Walker III faces one of those good challenges that come along.
He must work out the details of a merger of an older congregation that holds traditional worship with a younger congregation with a more contemporary worship style.
How will he do that?
"With much prayer, and very gingerly," Pastor Walker said with a laugh.
He and his wife, Lenora, are co-pastors of New Covenant Fellowship Church of God In Christ, 323 W. LaClede Ave.
That congregation will merge with Ebenezer Church of God In Christ at 566 W. Indianola Ave.
The churches' first united service will take place at 11:30 a.m. Sunday at Ebenezer, where Pastor Walker will be installed at 5 p.m. Sept 9.
Other details: It's the first COGIC merger in Youngstown, which has almost 20 congregations in the area. The COGIC is the largest Pentecostal denomination in the nation and is rapidly growing, according to the pastor. The merger is a spiritual family affair.
Pastor Calvin E. Kirkland Sr., Ebenezer's beloved leader for 38 years, died in June, leaving the church with a need for a pastor.
Pastor Walker, a Youngstown native, pioneered New Covenant Fellowship COGIC in 1991, holding services at the local YWCA. In 1992 he moved his congregation to its current building.
In the COGIC, either the denomination or a pastor may start a congregation. Pastor Walker had served under the pastorate of Superintendent Paul Anderson Loggins at Phillips Chapel COGIC for 17 years as an associate minister and minister of music.
Pastor Walker said of Pastor Kirkland, "He was like a father to me."
Leaner Kirkland, wife of Ebenezer's late pastor, said, "I would love to see the vision that my husband instilled in Ebenezer continue. I believe my husband would be pleased to know that one of the young men that he help mentor has become our pastor."
Uniting the congregations will also bring about a family feeling.
Eclectic blend: There are about 70 members at Ebenezer, who are mostly older. New Covenant has about 120 "much younger" members with children. The merger will bring together people of all generations with their different experiences, skills and ministries.
Another reason for the merger is that New Covenant had outgrown its building. There was enough room for worship but not enough room for educational classes, Pastor Walker said.
Both churches have worked extensively on the South Side by providing food to residents and providing summer youth programs for children.
Pastor Walker and his wife, who recently completed her course work to become a licensed social worker, are both active in a variety of social service programs.
"Addressing the needs of the Greater Youngstown Community has always been our desire. We recognize that many times after listening to spiritual sermons on Sunday morning, parishioners' practical dilemmas in their everyday lives should be addressed by the church," Pastor Lenora Walker said.
Plans are under way to create a social service referral office at Ebenezer by the first of the year. It will direct people to agencies that offer help with food, clothing, housing, job training and counseling. Plans are also being reviewed for a day care center and after-school program.
History: Ebenezer was first named Foster Memorial Presbyterian Church. It was built in 1921. Ebenezer had been located at 909 Franklin Ave., before moving to West Indianola in 1995.
Pastor Walker said he believes another pastor will start a new congregation at New Covenant.
The decision to merge was made by Ebenezer's Jurisdictional Overseer, Elder Beuford Terry of Cleveland, along with the deacons, Leaner Kirkland, the Walkers and with consultation with Pastor Walker's Jurisdictional Bishop, Walter E. Jordan.
In the denomination, each church has an overseer or bishop. Ebenezer will remain under Terry's guidance.