By LINDA M. LINONIS
For its 90th anniversary, Elizabeth Missionary Baptist Church celebrated in three ways.
Members recognized 64-year member, Ernest Woolen, and oldest members, Virginia Byrd, 92, and Phillip Greene, 91, during a worship service April 22; dined at a banquet in September; and culminated the observance with a live recording of the EMBC Mass Choir and Friends in November.
J. Dwayne Heard, senior pastor, was executive producer and Elder J. Luke Shumpert, minister of music, the producer and director, of the project.
“For me, it’s not about the music; it’s about worship,” Pastor Heard emphasized. He said that the music supports the word of God but shouldn’t overpower it.
“Those that have talent are called forth,” said Shumpert. “The music sets the atmosphere for the word to come forth.”
“Kingdom Agenda” is the title cut of the project; it was written by Shumpert. It’s among other original compositions written by church members and sung by them as well.
The title reflects the directive as a “kingdom-focused church,” that is, one that is “not an island but part of the community and open to all," said Pastor Heard. The pastor continued that the kingdom agenda is serving God on earth to be part of the kingdom of God in heaven.
Pastor Heard, Shumpert, and Deacon Willard Gidney, chairman of the deacon board, who joined in 1978, and Deacon Edward Bell Jr., a member since 1953, recently met to discuss church activities.
Members live out their faith in a variety of outreach programs sponsored by the church at the E.B. Family Life Center. The center, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, is separate from the church but operates under its auspices. The building, at 7 S. Garland Ave., is the former church, which is across the street from the current one.
The men noted a food pantry and meal are provided the fourth Thursday of the month with lunch at noon and the pantry afterward. This month because of Thanksgiving Day, it will be next week.
The center also is the site for an afterschool program for kindergarten- through third-grade students. Pastor Heard said the program provides a nutritious meal, prayer, mentoring and emphasis on reading skills.
Shumpert said the program also offers an arts program, which helps develop confidence and discipline in children. “In communities where children are involved in arts programs, there is less crime,” he pointed out.
Shumpert, originally from Jacksonville, Fla., was a resident artist in a program there and also worked in the Afterschool Alliance with Youngstown schools. He said a goal is to form a youth choir.
Though the center’s program targets young children, it involves older children by engaging them as mentors and tutors.
Mattie Pearl Bell, the deacon’s wife, orginated the program now supervised by LaDonna Walker. She had more than 50 years as a teacher in Youngstown schools. The deacon said “parent involvement” remains a key to success.
Pastor Heard added that the center has seen some success stories already, with youths in Early College.
The pastor said The Brotherhood, a men’s group, meets monthly for Bible study and mentors youth in the church.
God’s Godly Girls for women and girls meets the third Saturday of the month to discuss issues pertaining to women.
A youth/junior church is conducted the second and fourth Sundays during the regular service. Children who are out of diapers to age 12 participate in arts and crafts and learn about worship.
Shumpert said music plays an integral part of services; there is seasonal music for Christmas and Easter and a mix of contemporary and traditional.
For the pastor, music that helps “the baby to the oldest person” connect with worship is key.
Bell said decades ago, Dr. Watts songs were in vogue and now praise teams are popular.
Gidney and Bell said, as deacons, they are ordained leaders for prayer, leading services and reading Scripture. Both see their roles as serving the church and God.
“When I see a visitor in church, I like to have a one-on-one and welcome them,” Bell said.
Gidney believes the church is a “reflection of the leader.” He described Pastor Henry Clinkscale, who led the church for 38 years, as “so friendly,” which set the tone for the congregation. “Pastor Heard is friendly as well ... he uplifts people.”