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Tarentum's oldest church pins hopes on membership drive

| Sunday, May 11, 2014, 12:16 a.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Shirley Redman, a member at St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, shown with the altar and the original church organ, sings in the choir at the oldest church in Tarentum, as seen on Thursday, May 8, 2014.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Lisa Sydorick, a member at St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, is one of those spearheading a drive to recruit new members to the oldest church in Tarentum, as seen on Thursday, May 8, 2014.

Lisa Sydorick, events coordinator for St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, sees her role a little differently.

Actually, she views the whole tiny congregation as sharing that same role as they seek new members to ensure the survival of the 125-year-old church.

“I tell them, ‘We're like fishers of men right now,' ” Sydorick said.

Her reference to the Gospel seems more than appropriate for Tarentum's oldest church, which has 15 to 20 active members, many of them elderly.

“We need members; it's a matter of the church closing,” she said. “If something doesn't happen, I wouldn't be surprised if in 6 or 9 months, it is closed. We need to attract younger people.

“I'm 48 and I am one of the younger members,” said Sydorick, a Leechburg resident. “I would say the average age might be 65 to 72.”

“We're all getting older now, and we have lost quite a few of our members to death,” said Shirley Redman of Cheswick, president of the church council.

“Lisa started coming to the church, and I told her: ‘I don't think the church is going to be up and running very long. I think we're going to have to sell it,' ” Redman recalled.

That spurred Sydorick into action. She began organizing monthly spaghetti dinners to raise money to help pay the bills for the church at Lock Street and East Eighth Avenue.

Now she and the congregation are planning a festival at the church on May 17.

They'll have a puppet show, games, a bake sale and vendors.

“I think for the space that we have, it will be very nice.”

Members of St. Paul have been struggling for at least 10 years to keep the church going.

They hit a particularly rough period in March 2008 when high winds blew the church's brick chimney off the roof, leaving a large hole and tearing off some of the soffit and fascia. Also, the congregation learned that the furnace had to be replaced.

Through savings, donations and insurance reimbursement, the church was able to survive that crisis.

But it continued to struggle in attracting new members, the lifeblood for any organization to remain viable.

Sydorick said she began attending services at St. Paul with the closing of St. John Evangelical Lutheran in Harrison, which was similar in size.

She doesn't want St. Paul to experience the same fate.

“We need to get people who need a church and live around there,” she said. “There's no reason why we shouldn't be able to get people involved who need a place to go.

“It's great to have people make donations, but we want to make the church active, to bring some people in,” Sydorick said. “We are hoping to start a Bible school this summer to get some kids in.”

Although it may not have the features of some churches, such as a choir or musical ensemble, Redman and Sydorick said its history and its furnishings, which are well cared for, have a special appeal.

In fact, the congregation is hoping at some point to have the church declared a historical landmark.

Then there are the people who worship there, Redman said.

“If you want a church that is like a family, where everyone likes everyone else, where we work together, this is the place for you,” Redman said. “If you want to be close to God, I think this church will do that for you.

“It's a loving church. It's a beautiful church.”

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or

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