The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 22, 2013

Programs - and attendance - growing at Beaver Memorial United Methodist Church

By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item

— LEWISBURG — Church was long over for most Valley faithful by Sunday evening, but about 15 parishioners of Beaver Memorial United Methodist Church held one more service — over coffee at Cherry Alley Cafe in Lewisburg, they talked about faith and the mission of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Worship @ the Alley” was a relaxed meeting featuring music, prayers and a choice of three hot brews. Guest speaker the Rev. Dr. John Colatch, Protestant chaplain at Bucknell University, spoke of how King came into his social justice calling.

“King had the courage to stand up and lose his security,” Colatch said, noting King’s message usually put him in danger.

Colatch encouraged those gathered to do the same: keep the faith and embrace your personality, “what some may call your soul,” he said.

That’s right in line with the message these days at Beaver Memorial UMC, which over the last two years has become the church for everyone, regardless of creed, color, sexual orientation or age.

“Find a place that feeds your soul,” said Associate Pastor Tim Hogan, who led Sunday night’s service. He called Beaver Memorial an “umbrella church” that welcomes everyone regardless of who they are or where they’ve been.

And the umbrella works for this Lewisburg church, which celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2012. Once on the verge of closing for good — services were down to less than 50 worshipers, said Judy Albright, a parishioner for nearly 50 years — the church found new life with Senior Pastor the Rev. Rebecca Foote, who has been there about two years.

Beaver Memorial now has about 300 parishioners and service attendances averages about 200, Foote said. The church is likely one of the only in the area that is open to the LGBT community

“We find people who say, ‘that’s what I want to be, open to everybody,’ ” she said. “Finding the worth and talents in anyone.”

Foote calls the church’s mission of outreach “distinctive.”

“UMC is called an umbrella church because we will do anything ecumenically. If there is a group doing something significant, we’ll join in. We don’t have to see eye-to-eye on doctrine or theology. The main thing is, Is your heart with mine?”

Being in the same heart has renewed the energy of longtime parishioners and brought in enthusiastic new ones, such as Mark O’Brien, who joined about a year ago, he said.

“One of my favorite things each Sunday is the children’s section, which fills the front two pews,” he said. “Children are important to the life of a church,” and Beaver Memorial now has more children than it’s ever seen, he said.

Foote cited John Dramazos’ opening the church to people of all walks of life. “He said we stand here amidst those who don’t accept others,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to be any where else.”

Sharing has spread through the Valley and the world in several ways, Foote said.

For instance, in January, church members are to begin training to become responders to disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, bringing not only faith but muscle to such sites to help with rebuilding.

The church do another mission trip to the boarder of North and South Carolina to help with the Lumbee Indians, and also continue raising awareness about malaria. UMC has, as one of its goals, to help eradicate the illness by 2015 and is a big contributor of the “Nothing but Nets” campaign that gets mosquito nets to plagued regions.

The best feedback of all is from parishioners, Foote said. “There are those who’ve said we’re going to be here because of the mission and ministry,” she said. “And I am so glad that there have been ministers that have led the way.”