Hoboken church in Blawnox marks 140 years with ‘big party’ | TribLIVE.com
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Hoboken church in Blawnox marks 140 years with ‘big party’

Tawnya Panizzi
Tawnya Panizzi | Tribune-Review
The Rev. Lee Nichols, pastor at Hoboken Presbyterian Church in Blawnox, prepares to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the congregation in July 2019.
Tawnya Panizzi | Tribune-Review
Hoboken Presbyterian Church celebrates its 140th anniversary in July 2019.
Children celebrate the holidays by participating in services at Hoboken Presbyterian Church in Blawnox.
Carol Pawelak and the Rev. Lee Nichols, pastor at Hoboken Presbyterian Church, during services at the Blawnox Church.
Tawnya Panizzi | Tribune-Review
Hoboken Presbyterian Church stands along North Avenue in Blawnox and celebrates its 140th anniversary in July 2019.

When Hoboken Presbyterian Church first opened its doors in 1879 — 140 years ago — parishioners turned out to worship in a small school building near the Allegheny County Work House.

The congregation grew and moved to the cavernous red brick building on the corner of North Avenue, just off Freeport Road in Blawnox, where it remains today — small but mighty, the Rev. Lee Nichols, pastor, said.

The church has weathered a dwindling congregation but manages to sustain a robust core group whose focus is on the community.

“Our motto is ‘Strong in Faith, Mighty in Love,” Nichols said.

Members plan to celebrate the anniversary with a special service at 10 a.m. July 21. All are welcome.

Guest preacher will be the Rev. Sheldon Sorge from Pittsburgh Presbytery.

“I think 140 years is a very long time and it deserves a big party,” said Nichols, who spent nearly 20 years as assistant pastor at nearby Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church.

Formally organized on July 17, 1879, the church was named for the town’s then-moniker — Hoboken.

It wasn’t until nearly 50 years later, in 1925, that Blawnox was formed and named for the town’s steel mill and primary employer, a conglomeration of the Blaw Steel Co. and the Knox Welded and Pressed Steel Co.

At its inception, Hoboken boasted two pastors, the Rev. E.E. Swift and the Rev. J.M. Shields. Like other churches, membership climbed and fell through the years. There are now about 46 people in the congregation, Nichols said.

“We get about 30 on a Sunday, which I think is remarkable,” he said.

Inside, the worship space remains traditional and somewhat austere. Wooden pews line the maroon carpeting and make way for an organ near the altar. Mission-style pendant lights dot the ceiling.

The most spectacular feature are the colorful stained-glass windows that line three walls.

“It feels churchy and I like it,” said member Carol Pawelak. She joined the congregation about six years ago after having lived in Blawnox for decades.

“I decided I should go to church with the people I live near,” she said.

Pawelak has since become a valuable member of the church committee, tackling tasks each week that include prepping the projector and typing the bulletin.

She also helps with the community outreach projects, which the church does in abundance.

For summer, members are encouraged to collect food and school supplies to distribute to area children before they head back to class.

They also are working on “blessing boxes” that will be located at the church to provide essentials to anyone in need.

At Christmas, the church hosts cookies with Santa for hundreds of residents who gather for the Blawnox Night of the Lights celebration.

The rich community service is what member Sara Rhoades said she enjoys most.

“Being a part of something bigger and a place that serves the community is very important to me and my family,” Rhoades said.

A lifelong member, Rhoades was baptized at Hoboken, confirmed and married there.

“It has become a part of who I am,” she said. “It is like a second home.”

She said Nichols after his first year has already focused on the theme of inclusiveness. He preaches that everyone is welcome at the church, she said.

“I think that’s part of why Hoboken is thriving,” she said. “We want the Blawnox community and surrounding areas to know that we are here for them just as they have been here for us.”

To that end, the celebration on July 21 will include a birthday cake and other festivities, with the entire community invited to attend, Nichols said.

“We’ve been through good and bad times,” he said. “And I think we’re in a good time.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tawnya at 412-782-2121 x1512, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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