CHURCH CONGREGATIONS Group seeks financial contributions

Fewer donations to the Presbytery caused MVAC to lose funding.
YOUNGSTOWN -- A group that brings churches together and supports projects helping the hungry, the young and the elderly is asking local congregations to help them make up a $15,000 deficit.
The Mahoning Valley Association of Churches has raised only $35,000 of its $50,000 budgeted expenses for 2004, and has $3,000 left in its once-plentiful reserves, said Executive Director Elsie Dursi.
There are two primary reasons for the shortfall, she said. First, the Eastminster Presbytery, which represents congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), cut its annual $10,000 donation to $900 this year, and the association was not able to have its annual Taste of the Faiths fund-raiser, which brings in about $7,000, Dursi said.
The association, established in 1916 as Federated Churches of Youngstown, has laid the groundwork for independent outreach projects such as Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley, CROP walks in Mahoning County, Interfaith Home Maintenance, and Volunteer Service to Seniors, Dursi said.
Dursi describes the association as the research and development arm for local churches in dealing with complex issues.
Cuts in funding
The Rev. Nick Mager, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, 102 Wick Ave., is an association board member and is involved in the Eastminster Presbytery. He said that the Presbytery is receiving fewer donations from its member churches, so it is cutting funding to this association and to the Association of Churches in Akron.
In light of the cuts, Eastminster Presbytery has given Dursi permission to ask individual Presbyterian churches for money. She visited local churches during September, raising $2,000 from Presbyterian congregations.
The association also was hit because it was unable to hold its Tastes of the Faith fund-raiser this year at St. Charles Church in Boardman. The church normally donates space for the event, but it was in the midst of a construction project, Dursi said. The event, which features foods from various congregations and an auction, normally has 150 participants from Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths.
The Rev. Mr. noted that the association serves two purposes. It keeps lines of communications open between Christian denominations and between Christians and other faiths, he said. Also, it brings various denominations and faiths together to do things they couldn't do alone, he said.
"Together these churches can do more than one congregation can do by itself," he said.
Complicated issues
Some of the issues facing churches are complicated, and solutions take time to develop, Dursi said. The association can do the groundwork on these issues, she said.
The association has made changes in recent years by cutting Dursi's position and the only other employee from full time to part time. It also was granted a reduction in rent at Trinity United Methodist Church, 30 W. Front St., Youngstown, from $600 to $300 a month, which Dursi said is a generous gesture of support for the downtown office space.
Some of the association's more recent projects include ministries at local jails and prisons, a program seeking church members to become foster and adoptive parents, an annual interfaith breakfast and meetings where members of various faiths can discuss issues.

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