By LINDA M. LINONIS
Bethlehem Lutheran Church, celebrating its 200th anniversary, takes pride in its long-standing presence in the Mahoning Valley.
It’s kept good records of its history but lost track of all the keys to the church. That’s because over the years, so many church and community groups have met there and been given keys. That shows how integral to the community the church has been.
George Strom, 95, a member since birth; his son, David Strom, a member since the 1950s; Viola Roman, off-and-on member for 65 years; Ruth, a 35-year-member, and Norm Zembower, member since 1958; and Minister Robin Brown, pastor, who will mark her third year in April, met to discuss the church.
The church has various outreach ministries, and one of the most high-profile is Midlothian Free Health Clinic, which opened March 23, 2008. It is housed at Bethlehem and supported by Bethlehem and Christ Lutheran Church in Struthers.
The group noted the clinic was started by member, Miriam Whetstone, and Pastor Robert Johnson, who served 2003-10. Dr. Thomas Albani, clinic director, recently was named Family Physician of the Year by the American Academy of Family Physicians. He is chairman of St. Elizabeth Boardman Health Center’s primary care department.
“Pastor Rob saw that the service was needed,” Minister Brown said. The clinic is open from 5:30 to 11 p.m. the second and fourth Thursdays of the month. “They see about 50 people a night,” she said.
Ruth Zembower, Ann McMillan and Roman participate in the blanket ministry for the benefit of Lutheran World Relief. Minister Brown started a Covered by the Cross ministry for sick and shut-ins. “We want them to know they’re covered by Jesus.”
In the community, church members volunteer three times a year to prepare and serve meals at Red Door Cafe at St. John’s Episcopal Church. The church also provides a meeting site for various community groups and block watches; a day care also is operated out of the church though not by it.
Norm Zembower added outreach is important to the church, which partners with Second Harvest Food Bank and helps Habitat for Humanity.
Minister Brown also has initiated a five-week summer enrichment program for 8- to 12-year-olds. There’s Bible study and participants also attend a sports camp.
The pastor said activities have a goal. “It’s about building relationships that will help the church grow. We want to be relevant with God and one another,” she said.
George Strom has had a life-long affiliation with Bethlehem, where his parents were married in 1912. “In those days, the church was the center of activities and the community,” he said. His grandparents had settled in the Valley in the 1800s. They relayed history of the first church, a log cabin in Lake Park Cemetery then a wood frame church. “I remember hearing about two doors, one for men and one for women. They sat on different sides,” he said.
He added in the years after World War II, the church presented a live Nativity scene. “It drew a lot of attention.”
The longtime member also recalled three services during the 1960s because the congregation numbered about 400. The roster now has about 100. His late wife, Virginia, will be remembered Sunday for her 55 years of service with a plaque dedication.
Davis Strom said he takes pride in how the church has reached out and served the community and world though missionaries affiliated with the church.
Roman said the church is “welcoming” to all. “It’s home here.”