LEWISBURG — Nothing less than a spiritual renewal is underway at a church in West Milton.
The Rev. Timothy Hogan-Palazzo, St. Paul’s United Church of Christ (UCC) pastor, recalled when the church nearly closed. He came to the church in January 2017 and was installed in June.
The bottom, as it turned out, was where the rebuilding began.
“The church was in a place that they were ready for something,” Hogan-Palazzo said. “They just began to open their doors and people began to come. This became a community church again.”
He cited the New Testament verse of Matthew 13:35, a directive to spread love, as among their guides.
Hogan-Palazzo said joint programs and community missions have started again. They are working with St. John’s UCC, New Columbia, to restart a Fresh Express food distribution program.
“We’ve done...everything from go help a neighbor rake and cut their yard to build(ing) a ramp for another neighbor,” said Hogan-Palazzo.
Hogan-Palazzo said vacation Bible school is returning after a long absence. A Bible study has also begun on Wednesday nights, which attracts between 15 and 20 men and women. Their studies can include books with titles such as “Messy Spirituality, God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People.”
The title speaks to the welcoming nature of the church, also reflected in Hogan-Palazzo’s weekly greeting at the Sunday service.
“I always say, ‘Good morning saints.’” he noted. “And then I say, ‘Good morning sinners.’ to which where is an a resounding, ‘Good morning!’”
Hogan-Palazzo said the opening has helped create a space for people to be at ease with themselves in an atmosphere of love and respect.
“I think that is really what has made a difference,” said Hogan-Palazzo said.
He noted the previous pastor led the congregants through some big decisions. A vote had been made to close the church, but they were asked to ponder if that was the course they wanted to take.
“They made a decision,” Hogan-Palazzo said. “They didn’t think God was done with them yet.”
A typical Sunday service which attracted 20 to 25 people two years ago now attracts 80 people or more.
“Serving God is always fun,” Hogan-Palazzo observed. “I really think we try to live out...their openness to love one another.”
He noted the diverse social, economic, familial and political backgrounds of members.
“But it doesn’t matter,” Hogan-Palazzo said. “When you come in (the) door, you are family.”
Two new families had never attended church in their lives.
Challenges have included making the church more accessible for people with mobility issues. Congregants came through in a big way when it was time to replace carpet, teaming up to move furniture advance of the replacement.
Bob Koch, who lives to the west near MIller’s Bottom, said he has seen many changes in the time has been a member. His 1940 birth was in a house near the church.
“Back in probably (19)47 my mom and dad joined this church,” he said. “We lived probably five miles up the road.”
Koch showed his baptismal certificate to Hogan-Palazzo, and expressed gratitude for the increased size of the flock. Wood from an ash tree in his yard now adorns parts of the sanctuary and makes up the cross at the altar.
Cissy Rowe, who recently turned 101, was cited as a font of St. Paul history. Rowe served as church secretary for 40 years.
Hogan-Palazzo said confirmation classes will return for the first time in many years. Expansion will also include domestic mission trips with international mission trips also possible. There will be worship at Central Oak Heights on Father’s Day with a variety of activities planned.
Weekly services are at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, 433 High St. West Milton. Pub, Grub and Theology, at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays is a Bible study and discussion. Call 570-568-1433 or visit stpaulswestmilton.com for more information.
Staff Writer Matt Farrand can be reached at 570-742-9671 and via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.