New pastor takes over helm of longtime Aspinwall church
Community United Methodist Church first opened its doors in 1893 as the third protestant congregation in Aspinwall.
Founded by 18 residents at the corner of Center Avenue and Third Street, membership quickly soared to 100 people by 1901 and surpassed 200 just a few years later.
Today the congregation has dwindled to just more than a handful of residents, but a new pastor is banking on community outreach to breathe life into the 126-year-old institution at 400 Center Avenue.
“I have found that growth should be measured in changed lives that affect change in our communities,” said the Rev. Keith Kaufold, who presided over his first service on Nov. 20.
“What we are experiencing is similar to what many mainline denominational churches are experiencing, that is low church attendance leading to financial uncertainty,” Kaufold said.
The Munhall resident sees the perceived crisis as a calling to parishioners to question themselves on “Why do we gather together” and “What is the relationship with our respective congregation to the community our building is in?”
Church member Bill Crooks sees Kaufold's placement at Community United as fate. Long-time acquaintances, Crooks said Kaufold has a solid history of reaching out to the community.
“I believe a fresh face with a new approach might bring some new people in,” Crooks said.
The appointment justifies Crooks' unwavering efforts of outreach during recent meager years at the church. He faithfully prints a bulletin to distribute on Sundays, albeit there sometimes are only a dozen or so people in the 16 dark wooden pews.
He stocks cardboard boxes at the rear of the church to solicit canned good donations for the North Hills Community Outreach and mans a prayer phone chain when someone is ill or vital church information needs disseminated.
Crooks hosts a men's breakfast at 8 a.m. the last Saturday of the month at King's in Harmar for socialization among church members. This week, he organized the “Hanging of the Greens” to mark the beginning of Advent.
“A lot of the members are elderly and it's hard to attract new members if we don't have programs,” said Crooks, who was a lifelong member at Sharpsburg's Grace United Methodist Church before it shuttered its doors six years ago.
“I can see that the programs need to be there to keep the church going and I have the spare time so it's a good fit.”
Aspinwall resident and historian Tom Powers said the church reached its heyday in the 1920s and had attracted more than 500 members. It sorely outgrew the corner spot on the residential street and had to be rebuilt.
Groundbreaking ceremonies were held in 1931 for the building that exists today, Powers said.
“Two gifts — the Kier Memorial Organ and the Chancel window of Hoffman's Christ in Gethsemane — enhance the beauty of the church with its Gothic style nave and oak trussed roof,” Powers said.
The original stained glass windows remain, as do the brass chandeliers and the pipe organ. But other interior details speak to its age, like the exposed radiators and iron coat racks that line the walls. A cork bulletin board with neighborhood news greets members near the front door.
Kaufold, who graduated from Pittsburgh Theological seminary with a Masters in Divinity and a Sacred Theology, is currently attending school at California University for a Masters in Social Work.
In addition to his new role in Aspinwall, he serves as the pastor of Eighth Avenue Place in Homestead and is the lead pastor of a circuit that includes United Methodist Churches in West Homestead, Swissvale and Millville. He is joined by two associate pastors, John Devey and David Pogony.
Kaufold believes an aging congregation shouldn't stymie progress.
He said, “As our communities change, the church that follows Jesus must constantly reassess its cause for being in light of Sacred Scripture and community impact.”
Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for the Tribune-Review. Reach her at 412-782-2121, ext. 2, or at email@example.com.