By LINDA M. LINONIS
Fifty-four years ago, John Knox Presbyterian Church was born out of the merger of South and Evergreen United Presbyterian churches in 1959.
The two 1,000-member congregations combined in the South building at 1806 Market St., which was built circa 1917. The merged church took the name of the Scottish clergyman and a Protestant Reformation leader who is considered the founder of the Presbyterian denomination in Scotland.
Now another change is on the horizon for John Knox Presbyterian, which has 60 members. It has begun the process of merging with Christ Church Presbyterian on Canfield Road.
Recently, Alex Downie, who grew up in the church; Margaret Roberts, a member for 57 years; and Gay Smith and Cheryl Winger, members since 1959, gathered to discuss the past and future of the church.
“The size of the congregation and age of members were factors,” said Winger about the congregants’ decision. Currently, members worship one Sunday a month at Christ Church Presbyterian and another Sunday, Christ Church members come to John Knox. Other Sundays, the church hosts a guest minister. “The merger itself is still in the future,” Winger said, adding there is no set date.
John Knox has a rich history of mission work, a hallmark of the church. “We’ve always been a mission-minded church,” said Downie. He reflected that spirit in his own participation on a mission trip to Arnold, Miss., in the early 1970s when a flood damaged the town.
He also was on mission trips to India and Africa. At Miraj Medical Center in India, he used his engineering background. He and his wife, Christine, were missionaries in Zaire from 1986-90.
While some mission work took members to foreign countries, other such trips were to sites within the United States including a Native American reservation in South Dakota. Adult members and youth of the church were involved.
Winger recalled the church bus, painted green, was dubbed the “green pickle” and provided transportation for some trips.
Downie said the mission work was funded by the church; no fundraisers were conducted.
During the 1960s, the Happening House was a gathering place for youths of the church and neighborhood. Located next to the church, the house provided a site for youth-oriented activities and gatherings.
John Knox held the distinction of being a charter member of ACTION, Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods. It has since withdrawn.
The mission-oriented spirit continues through the church’s donations to and support of community organizations including Beatitude House, Rescue Mission of Mahoning Valley, Protestant Family Service and Fish Samaritan.
“We help with Thanksgiving baskets and Christmas gifts for Protestant Family Service,” said Roberts. The church also helps provide emergency food.
Members continued their mission work, Roberts said, by sending cleaning supplies to victims of Hurricane Sandy through Presbyterian Disaster Relief Assocation.
A tutorial program at the church evolved in an Adopt-a-School project with Williamson Elementary. Dave Flynn of Donnell Ford continues financial support of the program.
The Rev. Richard Braun, installed as pastor in 1962 and serving until his retirement in 2001, participated in the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march in 1962. The minister, who served for 39 years, exemplified the mission service of the church. He also worked with the late Irma Davis, founder of Needle’s Eye ministry.
The church also donates to Hope House Visitation Center, which provides a safe environment for supervised visitation and custodial/ noncustodial exchanges.
In years past, the Joy of Christmas project did just that — brought joy to the church members who presented it and the Valley residents who visited it. The five-year venture, beginning in 1989, was a week-long display of holiday-decorated rooms set up as a kitchen, bedroom, living room and garden. The finale was the manger scene populated by real people and animals. “We had a different theme every year,” Smith said. Smith and Roberts said as many as 3,000 handmade favors such as miniature manger scenes and gingerbread cookies were distributed.
John Knox is home to three community organizations — the English Center, Meals-on-Wheels and a foster grandparents group. Throughout the years, many organizations have used the church fellowship hall with its stage.
Downie admitted the building “is tied to many memories” and the church was “an anchor in the neighborhood.”
Smith added that the church also produced many leaders in various fields including teaching. “They got a good Christian foundation here,” she said.
Winger said she would remember the many “meaningful” services.