By LINDA M. LINONIS
Transition is the watch- word at Mahoning United Methodist Church.
Its history reflects a century of worship and community outreach as it looks to the future with a new, young pastor at the helm.
The city church recently marked its 100th year with a special worship service and dinner in October. Former pastors and choir directors were among special guests. A dinner featured a Power Point presentation on church history and musical program by the Youngstown Connection, who rehearse at the church.
Pastor Luigi Perez, who came to the 230-member church July 1, and Barb Childs, a member since 1980 who served on the anniversary committee, recently met to discuss the church then and now.
“I believe our church is in transition ... making changes and looking to see what young people want. The changes are positive. The congregation is looking forward and upbeat,” Childs said.
Pastor Perez said changes “won’t reinvent the church but build on the past.” He added, “Our mission focuses on Christ. It defines who we are, and we build on that.”
The pastor said a few young adults from the community have attended services. He hopes to develop an activity for young adults with music and Bible study.
Childs said the church continues its community outreach by sponsoring a food bank from 10 a.m. to noon the third Saturday of the month for residents in the 44509 ZIP code.
“We also offer a clothing room where everything is free,” she said.
Donations come from church members. During this activity, free coffee and cookies are provided.
Childs said occasionally community agencies set up tables with their information.
In January, she said, the church is planning to provide breakfast along with the food giveaway.
In September, Childs said, the church conducts an outdoor worship. “We want something visible,” she said. It’s a fun day basically for children, she explained, noting the church has had a petting zoo, sno-cones and crafts.
Another successful outreach has been trunk or treat for Halloween. “We get a nice turnout from the neighborhood,” Childs said.
The church also sponsors a Christmas party for neighborhood children that translates into a “Mom timeout.” Childs said parents then have some free time for Christmas shopping and activity without children in tow.
The church outreach isn’t confined to American borders. The offering from vacation Bible school in August went to a start-up church in Cuba, Pastor Perez said. That is his native country.
And, he added, the church continues its Rubles for Russia project to help a church in that country.
Members participate in various activities. There is a Bible study at 10 a.m. Wednesdays that is open to all. A men’s prayer breakfast is at 7:30 a.m. Saturdays except the third one.
Women in God’s Service tackles various projects at the church. The Yada Yada book club meets to discuss inspirational or faith-based books. “It’s not high-powered. We just get together to discuss,” Childs said of the group.
The church also offers lap robes for babies or someone who is ill. “Care bears” are available for children to adults who need a fuzzy friend.
Music plays a role in worship with the praise band and Chancel Choir. Pastor Perez plays the keyboard, drums and sings as well.
“He’s talented,” Childs said.
“Worship is not contemporary or traditional. ... It’s a blend of both,” Pastor Perez said. Modern music is used along with tried and true hymns.
A Christmas cantata is planned Dec. 23.
Pastor Perez devotes time at the altar for junior church, geared to 5- to 12-year-olds, who then participate in various activities.
Diane Redfern heads children’s Sunday school and Bud White, for the adults.
Pastor Perez said he uses thematic sermons to underscore the faith side of Thanksgiving and the importance of “giving thanks to God.” On the first Sunday of the month for communion, he explains the meaning of the bread and wine.
In 2013, Pastor Perez said a prayer chain from 10 p.m. Jan. 12 to 10 a.m. Jan. 13 is being planned to pray for the nation, country and community.
“The church is everything. It’s family,” Childs said. “It’s a place I go, and there’s peace.” She noted the church has supported her and others in many ways.