A Pennsylvania church plant’s journey to a permanent home passed through multiple habitats before arriving this year in a former Catholic church.
Shenandoah (Pa.) Mennonite Church began when Pastor Dale Weaver’s family moved to the area in 2010 and started children’s activities in a park. Things headed indoors for Bible studies at the Weaver home when the weather got cold.
“We were the pioneer family sent to move into the area,” he said. “It’s a small coal town that is in a poverty-stricken area.
“So we moved and began living among the people and witnessing and outreaching and doing a children’s ministry, a youth ministry, a women’s ministry we’re working on. There’s a lot of widows in this town — a lot of the coal miners had black lung.”
The church plant about 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia was a project of Myerstown Mennonite Church, a member of Keystone Mennonite Fellowship.
Keystone formed in 1999 when 15 congregations were granted release from Lancaster Mennonite Conference. The group adheres to the 1963 Mennonite Confession of Faith and has 26 congregations with 1,620 members in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Those early Bible classes turned into worship services when the church formally organized in 2012 and moved into a doctor’s office.
“The waiting room and the secretary’s area became our sanctuary, and the patient rooms were our classrooms,” Weaver said. But that home was temporary. “Our plans are, Lord willing, to turn that in 2015 into a Christian day school,” he said.
Like a good neighbor
Across the street, the Holy Ghost Polish National Catholic Church was nearing the end of decades of falling attendance.
“We used their parking lot,” Weaver said. “Just living right next door we got to know them and discovered they were interested in selling. So it was not put on the market, just a personal contact that we made with them.”
The church was deconsecrated in February, and in March the Mennonite congregation purchased the building for $100,000. The diocese removed altars, images and statues and Shenandoah Mennonite held its first weekend meeting there May 3-4.
“It went fast,” Weaver said. “It was a learning experience for us. God opened doors for us.”
He said some minor repairs were needed at the front of the sanctuary where fixtures had been, but the structure did not require drastic changes.
“They had a 12-foot-wide by 20-foot-high altar in the center, really decked out, and they took it out,” he said. “In the rooms to the side where the priest would get ready, we made them bigger for classrooms for Sunday school.”
They replaced the podium platform with a small pulpit. The pews stayed, kneelers included. At some point they will be removed because they need significant repair.
“Other than the stained-glass windows, it looks really similar to a Mennonite church,” he said. “It’s a brick building with a nice stone front . . .
“It’s kind of a mix between a Mennonite and a Catholic church. It was a different building than a lot of Roman Catholic churches in town. Some of them wouldn’t fit the needs of what we are looking for.”
Outreach has expanded to Thursday night children’s ministries. Bible lessons are attended by 40-50 kids. Youth events bring 20-30 attendees, Sunday morning services draw about 30 people and a DVD ministry is at shenandoahministries.org.
“We have some families from the local area that are coming and two converts from the youth ministry who are coming regularly,” Weaver said. “It’s growing, and people are finding out about it.”