YOUNGSTOWN Wick Avenue congregations come together in display of unity

Members of four churches gathered at the outdoor celebration.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Under an Indian summer sky, the two women shared an embrace.
Moments earlier, they had exchanged small gifts.
Shana Shaw had pinned a red cross to the lapel of Annette Horner's tan blazer. In return, Horner slipped a purple ribbon over Shaw's head. It held a cross crafted from a golden pipe cleaner.
But the women shared much more Sunday morning as they gathered with their church congregations on Wick Avenue in a joint prayer service.
Among those attending were members of First Christian Church of Youngstown, First Presbyterian Church of Youngstown, New Beginnings Outreach Ministries and St. John's Episcopal Church.
The churches were sharing a commitment, both to Christianity and to the revitalization of their Smoky Hollow neighborhood.
"Sometimes ... we have hidden fears and thoughts about one another. But we share a great understanding that there is a Lord God and he created us all," Shaw said, as the group dispersed singing "Alleluia" to the tune of a flutist from First Christian.
"We all have strengths to offer," she added, her eyes tearing up. "And if we all could come together in this world as we did on this corner, it would be something wonderful."
Gifts and their meanings
As part of the ceremony, each congregation brought gifts that they traded with members of their neighboring churches.
The Rev. Brittany Barber, pastor of First Christian, said the purple paper crosses on ribbons from her members represent "royalty."
The paper crosses from First Presbyterian portray one in the church's sanctuary, said the Rev. Tom Sebben, interim pastor.
Red lapel pin crosses from New Beginnings signify the blood of Jesus Christ that "can wash away our sins," said the church's pastor, Elder Melvin Trent.
And, the Rev. Larry Motz, associate pastor at St. John's, said the gold pipe-cleaner crosses are a symbol of "God's radiant love for us."
"Today we have all come bearing a gift. It is perhaps a small and humble gift. ... That is the representation of the gift. The gift is right here," the Rev. Ms. Barber said, pointing toward her chest.
"Take these back to worship," the Rev. Mr. Sebben added. "The pastors here have been upholding each other in fellowship and in prayer. We want to extend that blessing to the congregations here."
While Shaw and Horner traded their gifts, dozens around them, including senior citizens and small children, did the same. Shaw is a member of New Beginnings Praise Team choir. Horner is married to the Rev. John Horner, pastor at St. John's.
From different directions
The service began with members of the four churches walking from four different directions to attend the service at Lincoln Avenue. A brass quartet from Westminster College, New Wilmington, Pa., played, the sun gleaming off their instruments.
Shouts of "Amen" followed as the Rev. Mr. Trent told the group: "We know God is pleased with us because he's smiling on us with sun."
The Rev. Mr. Motz then read a reading from the Epistle of Paul to the Romans: "For as in one body we have many members and not all members have the same function, so we are one body in Christ and we, as individuals, are one in the Lord."
Also marking the event were performances by the Praise Team and St. John's choir.
The group of pastors also gave a farewell to Mr. Sebben, who is leaving after his stint as interim pastor at First Presbyterian. The Rev. Mr. Horner presented him with a resolution, thanking him for his "wise counsel, good humor and congeniality."
"When we pray the Lord's Prayer some of us would rather be forgiven for our debts than our trespasses," Mr. Sebben said, referring to different versions of the prayer, "but we can all praise God together.
"Don't stop doing this."
Revitalizing Smoky Hollow
The event was part of a revitalization movement among Wick neighbors, and spearheaded by Mr. Horner with Dr. David Sweet, Youngstown State University president. The goal is to join together churches, cultural and civic institutions, the university and the Wick Neighbors to create a new Smoky Hollow. Among plans are the university apartments that are being built, as well as residential homes, an arts community, stores and other amenities to draw students and nonstudents alike to the area.
"I hope it's going to help this whole Smoky Hollow," said Nancy Tod, a St. John's member. "Youngstown will start to come back. I think a lot of things have to happen to do that. I think the Wick neighbors are the cornerstone to that."
Rochelle Ruffer said she and her husband both work for YSU and believe in promoting the downtown area. She attended Sunday's celebration with her husband, Thomas Kim, and their children Nathaniel, 7, and Jonathan, 5. They are members of First Presbyterian, and Ruffer said she was pleased to see her children trading gifts and experiencing the diversity of the community.
"That's why we're part of a downtown church," she said, "to have that camaraderie. ... You can do much more with numbers than you can by yourself."

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