‘We can only go forward’
Church welcomes Rev. Ivy Smith as new pastor
CANFIELD — Members of the Canfield United Methodist Church were not only thrilled to worship together for the first time since March, but they also welcomed their new minister who made history as the first African-American to serve as pastor of the church.
The Rev. Ivy Smith led the service Sunday during an outdoor service in the church parking lot with masks worn by the more than 100 in attendance and chairs spaced apart for social distancing.
The Canfield resident, who most recently was a pastor in the Canton area, shared her message — “We can’t go back; we can only go forward,” and said God will go with all people through the challenges of the world today.
Smith replaces the Rev. Vernon Shepherd, who retired this year.
She said it was nice to be able to gather together in the shade, but for those who can’t attend there is a virtual online worship held at 10:30 a.m. each Sunday on the church website.
Smith was appointed to the church by Bishop Tracy Malone of the East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church.
“This was my first worship service here, and the first one for the congregation to be back together since the pandemic. This is a great community to be in. The church has a wonderful visionary group of folks,” she said of the 200-plus congregation.
The church sits on the Canfield Center green and is one of the city’s historic buildings.
“Part of my sermon was ‘we can’t go back,’ physically, or in our mindset or in our emotions. We have to embrace what is our collective future,” Smith said.
Church members were excited to welcome their new minister.
“It’s exciting to have change and an amazing step for our church. I believe she will provide us with the hope and inspiration that we need to grow as a church. … It was nice to be in group worship again while maintaining appropriate distancing. It made everyone feel comfortable to be back,” Erin Donley of Canfield said.
Lori Direnzo of Canfield said with all that is taking place in the world right now it is great to be back to worship together and to have a new minister.
“The message is, ‘you can’t go back with all the changes taking place in the world right now.’ The message she gave was so relevant to the world today,” she said, and added that it was important for people to stay home because of the pandemic, but it is not the same to have remote worship online.
Abby Auman, district superintendent of the Mahoning Valley District of the East Ohio Conference, said the church, founded in the 1800s, has an amazing history. A marker out front indicates at one time the church had an abolitionist preacher who they had to sneak out of the back door once because eggs were thrown at him.
“All churches are on a journey of grace and transformation during these tough times. It is exciting when we are able to do something like this which shows that we believe in God’s dream for the world. People are all working together. It is great to have Pastor Ivy here. She preached a very strong sermon of all of us going forward with God,”Auman said.
Lisa and Mark Zetts of Canfield said they were glad to be back at in-person worship and among friends.
“This is an exciting and wonderful time for our church,” Mark Zetts said.
Penny Wells of Youngstown with Sojourn to the Past said she wanted to see and hear Smith when she learned she was becoming the new pastor.
“I wanted to be supportive. I have seen her on stage when I was a lay delegate at conferences, but this is the first time I have gotten to meet her.” Wells said.