Faith. Fellowship. A friendly hand in times of need. Lorain County’s church community provides outreach assistance to all who need it, no matter their race, religion or creed. Here are several examples of extraordinary differences being made throughout the region and the country that originate right here.
Friendship Baptist Church, Lorain
Since 1940, members of Friendship Baptist Church have never stopped tending to the needs of their community. That conviction continues today among the more than 500 parishioners in a variety of ways. The church partners with Mercy Health to provide a parish nursing program that offers free health screenings. When COVID was at its height, members handed out care packages filled with essential masks and first-aid equipment. Lorain City Schools counts on the church for help in fulfilling a variety of needs, including mentoring and volunteering in the cafeteria.
“The major lesson we’re learning as a church family during the pandemic,” says Dr. John Jackson, senior pastor at Friendship Baptist Church in Lorain since 2003, “is to provide faith during times when it seems there is no hope.”
Sacred Heart Chapel, Lorain
Rooted in Catholic and Hispanic cultures since 1952, Sacred Heart Chapel is dedicated to embracing diversity, building unity and promoting justice for all.
“The parish was established as one for Hispanic and Spanish-language people,” says Father Bill Thaden, who’s served as pastor since 1999 to more than 1,400 families. “Now, we’re bilingual because every generation changes the need of English and Spanish. We’re very much a part of the Hispanic community, reaching people where they are in their lives — including in situations of need.”
Part of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a 189-year-old worldwide organization of lay Catholics following Christ’s call to serve the poor, the suffering and the deprived, Sacred Heart members are always at the ready during times of crisis.
“When anyone needs assistance, we’re there,” Thaden says. “Sometimes someone just needs shelter for a few nights or they’re in a situation where they don’t have adequate food. We’ll also get calls from people in the community who are replacing their furniture, and have good furniture they wish to donate. Parishioners pick it up and deliver it to those who can use it.”
The chapel serves as one of the hubs for Homeless Stand Down, an annual one-day event that takes place throughout Ohio for individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Organizations and professionals throughout the county volunteer their time in ways that include giving haircuts, serving meals, providing information about local social service organizations, conducting medical screenings and distributing personal hygiene kits.
Farther afield, Sacred Heart Chapel members have responded to deadly natural disasters in Florida, Puerto Rico and Mexico.
“Hurricane Maria was particularly devastating to our parish,” Thaden recalls. “We had people here who hadn’t been able to contact family members down there for weeks. We turned our gym into a warehouse where people could drop off supplies, including water, nonperishable food items, toiletries, flashlights and generators. The response was so great that we wound up sending 11 truckloads of supplies.”
The destruction left in Maria’s wake resulted in many Puerto Ricans reconnecting with their relatives in Lorain. Some arrived with only the clothes on their backs, and Sacred Heart members worked with local schools to identify where the families were and what they needed. The chapel also hosted an event where they could connect with service agencies; and parishioners transformed one of the chapel’s meeting rooms into a “free store,” where attendees could select clothing and other essentials.
“Whenever something dire is happening in our country, if I don’t take the initiative to help, someone else will say, ‘Father, what are we going to do for them?’” Thaden says. “Our community has become so much more than our parish.”
United Church of Christ, Avon Lake
For 126 years, the congregation of Avon Lake United Church of Christ has offered a bastion of support where it’s most essential.
“We take a careful look at what the needs are in Lorain and Cuyahoga counties to see where we can be most useful,” says senior minister Kelly Brill, who has served the 1,000-member Avon Lake UCC since 1995. “We don’t want to duplicate services. Instead, we see ourselves as financial and volunteer support behind the frontlines.”
Since 1979, the church’s Good Neighbor Thrift Shop has featured affordable, gently used clothing and household items, with proceeds supporting nonprofit organizations that include Genesis House domestic violence shelter in Lorain County; Lorain County’s Haven Center, which provides shelter, meals and other services that help families transition into independent housing; Primary Purpose, a long-term residential sober housing program for those recovering from addiction; and Avon/Avon Lake Community Resource Services, a social-service agency that procures items ranging from eyeglasses to school supplies and food for those in need. Last year, the church community raised $244,000 to support these and other crucial endeavors.
Junior and Senior High Mission teams don’t hesitate to volunteer where they can do the most good. Last year, the group partnered with St. Paul Community Church to remove playground equipment that was unsafe at the Ohio City house of worship. The teens are in the process of raising money to finance a new playground which they hope to install there this summer.
“Whenever there’s any kind of crisis or disaster, the people who are most vulnerable are most affected because they tend to not have as many other sources of support,” Brill says. “And if you’re already homeless, for example, and then there’s a pandemic, it’s going to be worse. If you’re already struggling to recover from addiction, it’s going to be harder. As a result, life has gotten tougher for all of those people, as well as those who work in agencies that are trying to help them. One thing we strive to do at Avon Lake United Church of Christ is bring awareness to the issues affecting our community. We’ve learned that something as simple as saying the words ‘domestic violence’ and ‘mental health’ in church can make a difference and take the stigma away.”
Fields United Methodist Church, North Ridgeville
Fields United Methodist Church has a storied reputation of welcoming all who need support — including those dealing with issues that most of us would find overwhelming. Thursday mornings are no exception. The church’s Memory Café ministry offers a safe, comfortable environment where those with mild to moderate dementia can enjoy the company of others and engage in meaningful art and music activities. For the caregivers who accompany them to the church, it’s a much-needed respite that offers a change in routine, along with the opportunity to meet other caregivers and exchange ideas and experiences.
“When you’re struggling with a loved who has dementia or any other debilitating issue, you think you’re by yourself on an island,” says Dr. Tom Joyce, pastor of Fields United Methodist Church. “But then you have the opportunity to listen to everybody’s stories, and discover they’re pretty much the same as yours. Suddenly, you realize you’re not alone. There are people going through the same journey you are.”
Founded in 1826, the church has a burgeoning membership of 500, including those who participate via livestream services the house of worship has been offering for five years.
Since assuming the pastorship in 2010, Joyce has made sure the ecclesia extends beyond the church’s four walls. Members of the congregation are trained to serve as Stephen Ministers, proving one-to-one care to those in Lorain County and surrounding communities experiencing difficult times in life, including grief, divorce and chronic and terminal illness. Each shares a passion for bringing Christ’s love to people in a time of need.
“Although we’re human, many people feel uncomfortable discussing extremely personal issues with their pastor,” Joyce says. “Like clergy, Stephen Ministers are trained to listen without judgment.”
On Saturday evenings in summer, the pastor holds an open worship service outdoors featuring contemporary upbeat music performed by the church’s praise group, Common Union.
“These are such fulfilling services,” Joyce says. “A lot of people have baggage when it comes to entering a sanctuary. Maybe they’ve been hurt in the past and, as a result, feel uncomfortable going inside. We give people the chance to bring a blanket or lawn chair or listen from their car. When you’re outside, it’s easy to envision God’s house as the universe.”
Joyce and a team of 21 parishioners make it a point to offer assistance anywhere and everywhere they’re needed. Since 2011, they’ve made 11 trips to states devastated by floods, tornadoes and hurricanes in Missouri, Oklahoma, Kentucky, New Jersey, Illinois, North Carolina, West Virginia and Texas. Some members lend a hand in reconstruction efforts. Others offer words of compassion, along with the listening ear that’s balm for the soul in trying times.
“Many years ago, I was playing racquetball with a rabbi,” Joyce recalls, “and he said, ‘You know, Tom, we’re in the same business. We’re both about having people come to know God.’ Fields United Methodist Church offers opportunities for them to do just that. We give people the chance to really know God in relational, intimate terms.”