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Presbyterian parishes are happily wed

| Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2001

After facing the loss of their respective homes, two Presbyterian congregations came together under one roof.

Now, it appears they soon will need a bigger roof.

The new Covenant Community Church is the combined congregation of the former Cranberry-based Covenant Community Church and Covenant Presbyterian Church in Marshall Township.

At Covenant Presbyterian, the congregation decided last year that its aging, dwindling membership could no longer afford their Wexford Run Road church and would have to sell it.

The flock of about two dozen members went to 6-month-old upstart Covenant Community Church, which was meeting in Carmike Cinemas in Cranberry, and asked if they could join with them.

The answer was yes, but Covenant Community's future also was uncertain: Citing legal concerns about renting out the theater, the cinema's owners had asked the church to move out.

So a plan was born, the Rev. J.D. Funyak said.

Taking the name of the Cranberry upstart, the two congregations would unite and meet in the Marshall church. And Funyak, 29, the pastor of Covenant Community, would be the new congregation's senior pastor.

"I said (to the Covenant Presbyterian members), 'This is perfect. We're at a point where we need a place, and you're in the place where you need new families,'" Funyak said. "I really believe that God fills your cup, however large your cup is."

The union became official in May.

Don Balla, a member of the original Covenant Community and now an elder at the church, said the marriage was good for both congregations because it has brought together different generations and different styles of worship.

Funyak said the church mixes traditional Bible teachings and hymns with contemporary messages and music, which is rather uncommon. He said while many churches offer traditional and contemporary worship, they usually do so at separate services.

Balla, who attended Grove City College with Funyak, said the mix made sense to him.

"I grew up with traditional hymns in a traditional church, and I want to stay in touch with those roots. You never want to lose touch with where you've been," Balla said. "But I really enjoy the contemporary pieces."

The original Covenant Community Church got its start after Funyak was directed by church officials at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Butler to start a new church in the Cranberry area.

The Presbyterian church began as five families meeting in Robert and Jane Lewis' New Sewickley Township home for Bible study. Within a few months, the church had dozens of members and began to meet at the cinema for weekly worship.

By the time the new congregation joined with Covenant Presbyterian, it had about 60 members, Funyak said.

As Covenant Community grew, the 25-year-old Covenant Presbyterian found itself losing members and unable to get new ones.

Now meeting for one service weekly, the new Covenant Community has about 138 members and is beginning to outgrow its 150-seat sanctuary.

Funyak said the congregation has already knocked out some walls to make more space and has ordered more pews to accommodate 170.

Beyond that, Funyak said, the congregation has contacted an architect to look at the existing building to see how the church, which sits on 14 acres, could be enlarged to accommodate more.

For Jane Lewis, who found herself holding a larger than expected Bible study group at her farmhouse last year, the success of the union has been remarkable.

"We're all becoming like a big family, and it's been very exciting," Lewis said. "I was impressed that the other congregation was so open to change and was so wonderful to us. I can't believe sometimes how easy things have come together."

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