By JULIE A. WAGNER
VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR
he histories of Canfield Presbyterian Church and the Canfield community have been intertwined for 200 years.
It's evident in the history books and in the memories of long-time church members who recall many projects that involved both church members and Canfield residents from other churches or organizations.
Cleo Bowman Williams and Betsy Casgrain remember the Canfield Exchange Store that operated on Canfield's square from 1951 to 1990. The clothing and household items sold benefited missions of the church.
The store, which started in a room in the old courthouse and moved several times, was run by the church's Women's Missionary Society, but it attracted volunteers from throughout the community. There were enough volunteers to run the store throughout the week and Saturday morning. The store closed when the building's owner raised the rent.
The store's profits, which were about $180,000 during its existence, went to mission work. Sometimes, items meant to be sold were gathered up for a Canfield family left homeless by a fire or other tragedy.
"We gave away as much as we sold," Williams said. Baptized into the church in 1919, she was confirmed in 1931 at age 12. She worked in the store for about 30 years. Casgrain has been a member for 74 years.
Milton Kochert remembers the town's teenagers coming to the community youth group Tuxus that met at the church Sunday nights. There were games and folk dancing. He and his wife were married in the church 50 years ago.
Church and community came together again in the late 1950s when classes overflowed the school district's facilities. For a few years before the district built a new school, pupils in fifth or sixth grade had classes at the church, Kochert said. His wife, Nancy, a schoolteacher, taught some of those classes.
It's an important part of the church's history that "the congregation has always been reaching out to the whole community and beyond," said the Rev. Charles Moffett, who has been pastor since 1976.
Keep on giving
That community involvement continues. Operation Blessing, a food distribution program started more than 15 years ago, is manned by volunteers from the community and other churches. Once a month, food is given to 250 to 300 families in the Canfield area, he said. It is supported by contributions from the churches, organizations and individuals, he said.
Moffett and church members also participate in other local missions including Habitat for Humanity, the Rescue Mission in Youngstown, A.C.T.I.O.N. and the Beatitude House.
"That's been a major focus and outreach of this congregation," the Rev. Mr. Moffett said.
That help extends overseas with support for missionaries in 15 countries, said Mr. Moffett, a son of missionaries who was born and reared in India. Youths and adults also have made mission trips abroad.
Casgrain and Williams remember how they learned about supporting missions. When they were young, a child having a birthday in Sunday school would bring as many pennies as their age to put into a bank. That money was sent to missions, they said. Williams remembers her class writing to a girl in China to whom they sent donations.
The bicentennial celebration
Plans for the yearlong celebration began with the formation of the bicentennial committee in 2001. Special events have included the Tour of Homes last December, a worship service in April, a birthday cake community celebration in June and a float in the Fourth of July parade.
To mark the occasion, the church at 140 W. Main St. has made banners for its sanctuary, produced trivets and wooden replicas of the church, created a written history published in booklet form, and dedicated a brass plaque beneath the flag pole in front of the church. The flag pole commemorates the bicentennial and honors the victims and heroes of Sept. 11, 2001.
On display at the church is a time line made by youths that includes baptismal and wedding pictures from the past century.
In December, the church will bury a time capsule on the church grounds. Items to be placed in the capsule range from modern-day to writings from the early church times. They are on display at the church.
Also by the end of the year, the church will make available a video being produced locally with historical and current information.