Unity church opening new campus in Jeannette
It's a common saying in the Christian community that God doesn't close one door without opening another. That has literally come true in Jeannette.
Due to a dwindling congregation, the First United Methodist Church on South Second Street closed its doors at the end of 2016. On Sept. 24, the doors will reopen to welcome worshippers to the new Charter Oak Church Jeannette campus.
Initially, the new church will offer a contemporary-style service with praise music at 11 a.m. Sundays, along with Sunday school classes for children from age 3 to fifth grade and a nursery for younger ones. Programs for older kids and adults, and plans for more community outreach, are in the works, says Pastor Chris Livermore.
The parent church is located on Frye Farm Road in Unity, and Charter Oak also has a campus on South Main Street in Greensburg.
"Charter Oak originated (in 1961) as a very outward-focused church," says Cindy Jonczak, director of next steps and communications. "From the first day we sensed God calling us out into the community, to become a very real presence throughout Westmoreland County."
The presence will be welcome as part of Jeannette's revitalization efforts that have included the cleanup of the former Monsour Medical Center and Jeannette Glass properties, says Diana Reitz, Jeannette's community development director.
"I'm thrilled that Charter Oak is coming in and maintaining occupancy of one of our downtown properties," she says. "We welcome them to come in and get active, because that's what keeps the community alive. It takes everybody doing a little bit, and then you get a lot done."
Reitz says that every occupied building plays an important role in bringing life back to downtown Jeannette, where many buildings have stood vacant and crumbling in recent years.
"City council has worked very hard to move forward with our comprehensive plan," Reitz says. "Our blight task force is getting rid of decaying structures.
"We've been chipping away, doing little things, and it's starting to show," she says. "Everybody has the same feeling — we're on the upswing and people are asking, 'What can we do to help?'"
"We want to come alongside and help the community organizations," Livermore says. "Our tagline is that we have a heart for the city in the heart of the city. We want to reach out to people who are searching and kind of struggling, because there are a lot of those around us, and not just in Jeannette.
"There are a lot of good things happening in Jeannette," he adds. "I think it sometimes gets a bad rap."
Children's ministry coordinator Ron Slavin says he's eager to become a part of the community through working with the children.
"We've done prayer walks and talked to people in the community, and what I found is that the people of Jeannette don't need a handout, they need a helping hand," he says. "They're patriotic and industrious and they've got a heart that's unbeatable.
"Like Chris says, we don't need to ride in on a white horse, we just have to be here to help."
Visitors to the church will find a freshly painted sanctuary and classrooms. Some floors were replaced, others were cleaned and waxed. Lighting was updated, a sound system installed and a bathroom made handicapped-accessible.
"It's a good, solid building," Livermore says. "We just did some improvements to give it a more contemporary look."
Some congregation members from the Unity campus will be found in the pews and helping out in various capacities when regular services get underway.
"(The church) made it know to folks that if they felt called, they should help to get it off the ground, and they were more than willing to step up," Livermore says.
"I haven't been to their church, but I know they have a large youth group, and reaching out to the youth can only be a good thing," says Jill Sorrels, owner of the Keynote Cafe in Jeannette and a longtime community advocate. "It's people like them seeing the potential in Jeannette that makes a difference, and that's huge."