By LINDA M. LINONIS
There are still details to attend to — offices to arrange and classrooms to set up — but all that will fall into place as the membership of Spanish Evangelical Church celebrates its dedication weekend.
Events are planned Friday and Jan. 18 and 19 to mark the opening of the $1.2 million project.
Groundbreaking for the Assembly of God church at 369 Keystone Ave. took place Sept. 16, 2012. But the vision for a church is years old. Coincidentally, 2014 also is the church’s 60th anniversary.
The Rev. Rolando Rojas, pastor, and his wife, Ruth, an associate pastor; and Alfredo Morales, an elder, discussed the church’s road to its own building and its ministries. Its mission states “passionately pursing God while compassionately serving people.”
Morales, Luz Cruz, Felita Morales and Daisy Lopez will be recognized as pillars of the church. Alfredo Morales’ brother, Andres, came to Youngstown in 1951. He met Bonnie Covert, a missionary who had worked in Guatamala, and the two worked together to organize a Hispanic church. Teodoro Cruz, the late husband of Luz Cruz, joined them. The church was organized in 1954, with Alfredo Morales now a member, and met in a building at East High and Pearl streets.
Pastor Rojas said that throughout the years the church had been encouraged by the late Rev. Jay Alford, a church and community leader. Pastor Rojas, who came to the church in 2000, was instrumental in acquiring property where a church could be built. By buying tax-lien property, the church acquired 12 acres on Keystone Avenue, where it plans to amass up to 20 acres.
Pastor Rojas recalled the first “state of the church” speech he delivered. “It was the start of this vision,” he said.
Plans for the acreage include softball and soccer fields and a community garden. Those ideas, the pastor said, were born out of “what God wanted us to do.”
Pastor Rojas, the seventh pastor, credited Alfredo Morales with keeping the church on track when it was without a pastor. He filled the role as preacher and served as treasurer for some 45 years. Morales’ investment strategy helped the church build a treasury of some $600,000 for its building project. The funds came from tithing, fundraisers and investments.
Among fundraisers were the sales of pastellos, beef patties in dough, and pasteles, ground beef with green bananas, olives and potatoes.
The 110 church members reflect a multicultural background including Hispanic, African- American and Caucasian.
M3 Development built the 9,999-square-foot church with a sanctuary with seating for up to 299 people, 10 classrooms for Sunday school and ministries, offices, large foyer as a gathering space and commercial kitchen. “The sanctuary is a multipurpose space,” Pastor Rojas said.
“We also plan to have a bilingual day care with playground,” Pastor Rojas said. The church is located across from ESA Park Apartments on the East Side.
Ministries within the church are for men, women and youths. All share five points — worship, fellowship, discipleship, evangelizing and serving.
Mrs. Rojas said dance and music are important elements in worship at the church. Warriors of Praise, Guerveras de Adoracion, is the dance group that is featured at services. The group also has performed at the Hispanic Festival, Canfield Fair and Youngstown State University.
Music enhances worship, Mrs. Rojas said, and also serves as an educational tool. Words for hymns are projected on screens in both English and Spanish. If it’s a Sunday when Pastor Rojas preaches in Spanish, his wife interprets in English and vice versa. “Being bilingual helps families stay together to worship,” Pastor Rojas said. Dorcas Santiago is the worship team lead and coordinates with the pastor. “Members openly express their faith,” Mrs. Rojas said.
Pastor Rojas said the church outreach is “a way to help others and help ourselves.” The church participates in the High Pointe Softball League and has a fishing ministry, which is a group and one-on-one activity.
For Thanksgiving, the church distributed 100 turkeys and provisions for a dinner. It has plans to offer a soup kitchen.
While the membership is happy to have its own building, it is bittersweet. Spanish Evangelical spent seven years renting space at Metro Assembly, 2530 South Ave., and formed close ties with Pastor Al Yanno and its membership. Pastors Yanno and Rojas are leaders in NOW Youngstown, a street ministry in the inner city.