Cranberry's oldest church looks to new era

| Saturday, April 12, 2014, 6:06 p.m.

Derek Marotta, wearing a black robe and purple sash, stood at the pulpit of Cranberry's oldest church on a Sunday morning, referencing notes for his sermon from an iPad balanced on a large Bible.

As the church's newly appointed pastor, Marotta said his goal is to embrace the history and traditions of Plains Presbyterian Church, founded in 1806. But the church's future, as Marotta sees it, is in expanding youth connections, increasing mission work and focusing on teaching through the pulpit.

“We're the oldest church in Cranberry,” Marotta, 38, said in his office after the service. “That should be celebrated, as it is also celebrated that we continue to evolve and grow.”

The small, white-frame church, tucked off Franklin Road, has evolved from a grassy meeting place under a tree, a log cabin and a brick house. It sits on a spot that has been a place of worship for more than 200 years.

Now part of that history, Marotta is the 27th recorded pastor and is the youngest person in 43 years to lead the church of about 80 members, according to long-standing member Beverly Magill.

Magill, who has been attending the church all of her life and currently lives next door, said she is enthused by Marotta's attitude since he arrived six weeks ago.

Magill said she appreciates Marotta's already strong connections with the children at the Cranberry Nursery School, which is attached to the church, as well as his efforts to meet the elderly shut-ins.

“I just think his enthusiasm, his motivation, his personality and just his friendliness and openness, it is just really nice,” Magill said.

Born and raised in Ashland, Ohio, he graduated from Ashland University with a degree in religion and sociology, then enrolled in Ashland Theological Seminary where he completed his Master of Arts in Christian Education in 2008.

He began full-time ministry in a United Methodist Church as a combined youth leader and director of Christian education, then accepted a student pastor position in the village of Savannah, Ohio, a few miles from where he grew up. He received his Master of Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

Marotta is married with two children, both of whom now attend Seneca Valley schools.

Marotta said he believes heavily in bolstering youth attendance to encourage parents to come to church.

He hopes to build on a recent partnership with Cranberry Community United Presbyterian and Fountain Park churches to bolster youth attendance.

Although incorporating technology into services is something Marotta would like to do, he said the church is still discussing its needs. The church service remains traditional. On Sundays, parishioners sing songs from weathered red hymnals to the accompaniment of an organ player and read from benedictions typed in a weekly bulletin.

Innovation does not mean the death of tradition and any changes will further spread the spiritual message and strengthen the Plains community, Marotta explained.

“It's not A or B; it's A and B,” Marotta said. “We're going to have traditional worship the way it has always been, but we're going to augment.”

Akasha Chamberlain is a freelance writer.

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