By LINDA M. LINONIS
Those who attend or visit Austintown Baptist Church share a soulful experience. They “feel the love,” said the Rev. Charles Cole, pastor.
Pastor Chuck, as he prefers to be called, said he heard the comment phrased in different ways but saying the same thing many times.
The pastor and his wife, Vonda; Richard Fink, a member since 1967; G.L. Mears, a member since 1980; and Ruby Deskins, a member since 1996, recently gathered to talk about the church, which is observing its 50th anniversary. A special service will be July 13 followed by a celebratory dinner in the fellowship hall.
“When you walk in the doors here, you just feel happy,” Fink said. “That’s what I hear from the people who come here.”
That was seconded by Deskins, who added, “You feel the love around you. You feel the love on Sunday mornings.”
That feeling goes along with the motto, “A Church That Cares.”
When the congregation celebrates the golden event, Pastor Chuck said that feeling will be shared. He said the church is looking forward to seeing the founding pastor, the Rev. Ron Martin, now of Columbus, who will be guest speaker. Other former pastors have been invited.
Pastor Chuck said the church has about 175 families with a core group of 50 who are active. He has been with the church since 1965, and became pastor in 2004. He retired in 1991 from General Motors Corp.
“God kept calling me,” he said of his ministry. In 2000, he responded and was ordained in 2004. “God has a hold of my life,” he said, adding, “I feel God around my shoulders.”
Pastor Chuck said the church has experienced its ups and downs, but in the end, it is “God’s holy ground.”
And it has been instrumental in launching other churches. Deskins said Mr. Martin came from Oklahoma to start Austintown Baptist, which remained mission minded. The church started 14 missions and churches, with five remaining.
Austintown Baptist Church is affiliated with Steel Valley Baptist Association, the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio and Southern Baptist Convention.
Over the years, the church has contributed to home, state and foreign missions. A ladies auxiliary at the church was involved in that effort. Deskins also served as state president of the Women’s Mission Union from 1974-78.
Fink said the church has been community-minded in different ways. For children, it has sponsored alterative Halloween parties and Easter egg hunts.
A vacation Bible school will take place in August. Austintown Baptist partners with Mount Zion Baptist Church in Columbus, Miss., on church-related missions. Church members also have visited and participated in worship with the Rev. Steve Lammons.
In partnership with Austin Village Baptist Church, the congregation collected coats for a distribution, and in cooperation with Austintown schools, Austintown Baptist collected backpacks to give away.
Until recently, Angel Food Ministry, which has closed, was at the church.
Fink also cited the Safety Day sponsored by the church. He said about 250 community residents attended.
A youth program also has been part of church activities. “We took phenomenal trips,” said Vonda Cole.
Fink said he recalled a trip to Columbus, where the youth choir, Lite Shine, sang on the capitol steps.
Youths from the church also participated in the Southern Baptist Convention Bible contest. Mears likened it to a spelling bee though it dealt with Scripture. In 1976, the Coles’ daughter, Rhonda, was national champion.
Another aspect of church life is Sunday school for all ages. Deskins, who is a Sunday school teacher, said the classes are Bible-based. “We teach from the cradle to the grave,” she said.
The church has a Bible study and knitting group from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays. The knitters make items to donate to charitable causes.
Fink said one of the assets of the church is the eight-member praise team in which he participates as a vocalist. “We sing every Sunday,” he said. “I think it picks people up.”
Pastor Chuck said he and the congregation believe in “being faithful and God will take care of the rest.”
He said a favorite Scripture passage from Jeremiah 29:11 focuses on a plan for a prosperous future, which the church believes will come to pass.