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Mt. Pleasant Township church center welcomes new leader

| Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Before they met, the Revs. John H. Denlinger and Michael Yoder already had a few things in common. Back in his hometown of Lancaster, Denlinger, the outgoing executive director at the Laurelville Mennonite Church Center in Mt. Pleasant Township, once regularly played basketball with other area pastors, including Yoder's older brother, the Rev. Nathan Yoder, he said.

“It was good stress relief,” Denlinger quipped.

On the court, Nathan Yoder often would mention his “kid brother's game,” but Denlinger said he never got the chance to see his skills in action.

After Denlinger came to Laurelville in 2009, Michael Yoder joined his brother and the others on the very court Denlinger once occupied.

So when Denlinger called Michael Yoder earlier this year to congratulate him on being named his successor at Laurelville, Yoder made sure Denlinger knew he'd already heard all about him.

“He said, ‘Hey, I think you know my older brother,'” Denlinger said with a laugh.

On Saturday, Denlinger will officially “pass the baton” of leadership to Yoder at the center's annual Spring Gathering in what is the center's 70th year of existence.

The event will begin at 11 a.m.

“I'm very excited about Michael coming to Laurelville. I think he's going to bring a lot of the energy of a younger person and that energy will be good for Laurelville,” Denlinger said.

Yoder, 36, previously served since 2005 as senior pastor of Millersville Brethren in Christ Church in Lancaster, he said.

“I had a sense that it was time for a new season in life. Someone made me aware of the opening and the opportunity that was there at Laurelville, and I entered the process for consideration,” said Yoder, who will be joined by his wife, Stephanie, and the couple's four children: Austin, 7; Carson, 6; Lindsey, 3; and Grant, 2.

“My family and I are really looking forward to embarking on this journey and joining the Mt. Pleasant community,” he said.

Denlinger said he plans to take Yoder to a meeting of the Rotary Club of Mt. Pleasant, where Denlinger previously served as club president between July 2011 and July 2012.

“I do hope to become a Rotary member, if they will have me,” said Yoder, adding that his father, the Rev. Alvin Yoder, the pastor of Pigeon River Mennonite Church in Pigeon, Mich., is a Rotarian in that town's club.

Denlinger also plans to introduce Yoder to members of the Mt. Pleasant Ministerium, a group of church leaders which Denlinger joined during his tenure.

“Having Laurelville as a part of the ministerium is a great addition,” said the Rev. Paul Rankin, pastor of Reunion Presbyterian Church in Mt. Pleasant.

Denlinger said he also hopes to introduce Yoder to Mt. Pleasant Borough Mayor Jerry Lucia and borough Manager Jeff Landy in an effort to continue the healthy relations he fostered throughout his tenure between Laurelville and the surrounding community.

“I do think Michael also believes strongly in community connections and continuing to carry on that aspect of the mission at Laurelville,” Denlinger said.

Yoder confirmed Denlinger's belief with all the certainty of a no-look pass.

“I certainly hope to further strengthen all those relationships, because Laurelville is a place to be utilized by the community, and that's certainly something that I hope continues,” he said of the center, which has a long partnership with Pittsburgh Kids Foundation.

“I think it's a fantastic setting with great facilities, a great place to get away to connect with people and with God,” he said.

A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or