Pastor Joe takes on the weight of spreading the gospel
The Cameneti family is heavily involved in the ministry.
WARREN -- The late 1970s and early 1980s was a transitional period for the Rev. Joseph Cameneti -- a time that saw him adding Bibles to barbells and including "the Word" with weights.
At the time, the Rev. Mr. Cameneti (who's widely known as Pastor Joe) and his brother Tony owned the Steel Valley Barbell Club in Boardman. When he wasn't working out, one of the gym's regulars found time to share personal testimony with Mr. Cameneti and a few months later encouraged him to watch "The 700 Club," a two-hour live Christian news magazine program hosted by Pat Robertson. Nevertheless, the man's testimony did not lead to an instant transformation for Cameneti.
"At first, I made fun of him," before watching the show for the first time, he said, laughing.
At the end of the program, however, Mr. Cameneti wasn't laughing. Instead, he found himself praying and inviting Christ into his life, he recalled. From there, Mr. Cameneti continued, he "felt called" and set out to chart a new course in his life.
It wasn't long before Mr. Cameneti was on a life-changing path that took him halfway across the country and, with his brother, to Bible school.
Believers' Christian Fellowship
Today, he runs Believers' Christian Fellowship, a nondenominational church with about 1,800 members and 400 to 500 friends of the church. Beginning last September, he took his message beyond the walls of BCF's spacious 4-year-old sanctuary at 2577 Schenley N.E. in Warren by hosting "The Weekly Bible Study with Pastor Joe," a half-hour program that airs at 11 a.m. Sundays on WFMJ-TV 21.
In the early '80s, Mr. Cameneti found himself intrigued by a book written by the Rev. Kenneth Hagan that described the Rhema Bible Training Center, a school the Rev. Mr. Hagan founded in Tulsa, Okla. Shortly after reading the book, Mr. Cameneti and his brother Tony found themselves Oklahoma-bound.
The two brothers attended the Bible school and received two years of religious education and training. After graduating in mid-1983, Mr. Cameneti, one of six children, returned to the Mahoning Valley and founded his first church.
That church, however, was anything but conventional. For about a month, he operated from the basement of his brother Jim's Howland home, where roughly 40 people showed up for Bible study on Wednesday evenings.
Later, the siblings rented a closed elementary school building in Warren; in September 1983, around 100 people attended the brothers' first Sunday service there.
Four years later, Mr. Cameneti said, he moved into BCF's current location in Warren.
In 2000, a new 950-seat sanctuary as well as an office complex were added to the building -- which, like the previous site, was once used as an elementary school.
Many of the classrooms in the older section of BCF serve as part of the church's day-care facility, which provides services to 175 to 180 children 4 or younger, Mr. Cameneti said.
Even though they're no longer used as traditional classrooms, the numbered rooms serve as home base for the day care and the epicenter for any of several youth groups and children's get-togethers.
In addition to its 9 and 10:45 a.m. Sunday services, the church, which has nine part-time and full-time ministers, features numerous Bible groups for all ages.
One of the nine ministers is his wife, the Rev. Gina Cameneti, whom he met at Rhema Bible Training Center. She helped her husband found the church.Attracting youth
A Wednesday night youth group typically brings about 300 young people to the church for Bible study and other related activities. On Saturdays, a service for adults 19 to 30 takes place, Mr. Cameneti said, adding that a ministry is set up for those with disabilities.
Children and youths are an important component of BCF, so the church came up with programs like Kids for God and Super Kids, both of which offer age-appropriate Bible lessons and similar activities to infants through age 10, he said. A junior youth group includes seventh- and eighth-graders who have their own worship band, and one Wednesday each month the church hosts Bring Anything that Breathes night. That gathering allows teenagers to perform Saturday Night Live-style skits and do video productions centered around a biblical theme, he explained.
Mr. Cameneti said he often consults with his staff for ideas that fit with the congregation and places a heavy emphasis on teamwork for the success of BCF.
"Our church is a church that loves people," he said. "A goal is to help people understand what their gifts and abilities are and how to use them for the kingdom of God. We see ourselves as a team and every part of the team is important."
Mr. Cameneti also offered a straightforward reason for his decision to take his message to the airwaves: "We feel called to go to people, and we know some won't go to church, so we want to bring it to their homes. Coming to them is less threatening to some. We're local, so they know who we are."
A decision to bring God's message to people in different parts of the United States and the world is a central theme in the lives of various family members.
His brother Michael runs the Canton Christian Fellowship in Canton, Ohio, and brother Tony oversees a missionary program in Singapore.
Despite being on the west coast of Malaysia during the Dec. 26 tsunami disaster and not being heard from for two days, Tony was spared from the catastrophe, Mr. Cameneti said.
He added that his sons, Joseph Jr., 19, a Youngstown State University student, and David, 17, who attends Howland High School, say they feel called to go into the ministry, but plan to finish their college education first.
He also has two daughters, Michele, 14, and Deanna, 13, both of whom are Howland Middle School pupils.