by Jonathan Weaver
A special church service is held for those with special needs every Monday night in North Buffalo Township.
God’s Choice Church started meeting at Kittanning Free Methodist Church along Freeport Road November 24.
In the past five months since Senior Pastor Dr. Wayne Sawyer and his wife, Becky, led the two-hour fellowship, Parishioner Amy Poole has organized the weekly activities –which include a potluck dinner, music – led by her brother, Pastor Mark Crosby – and crafts.
Poole said after the first few weeks – and a discussion with First Free Methodist Church Associate Pastor of Spiritual Development Shirley Elosh (the church that started God’s Choice in East Liverpool, Ohio five years ago) – she knew God put upon her heart to be a leader at God’s Choice.
“When Rev. Elosh came and gave the presentation, I was sitting in church and I just became very overwhelmed. The Spirit really laid it on my heart that this was something I really needed to be involved in, Poole said.
“When you go somewhere in public and you have special needs, you’re treated differently. And sometimes treated very, very poorly – I’ve always felt that has been an injustice.” You might not feel welcome in a traditional church, but when she presented this as a church where you can come as you are, be as you are, I was right there.”
Pastor Mark Crosby, the assistant pastor at New Beginnings Free Methodist Church in Butler, was formerly an assistant pastor at Kittanning Free Methodist and said Pastor Sawyer has been in contact with people for years trying to organize the branch.
He recalled the fact that First Free Methodist’s God’s Choice grew so big it expanded to Rochester Free Methodist and Monacrest Free Methodist – both only about 20 miles away in Beaver County.
God’s Choice has also expanded to Shamokin Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Shamokin (Northumberland County)
“It’s kind-of a small world that we’re all in now,” Pastor Crosby said. “Seeing the smiles on their faces helps me.”
After a potluck dinner, Pastor Crosby led songs such as “I’ve Got the Joy in My Heart,” “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and “Deep and Wide” Monday evening.
“It’s just about serving those who don’t get served too often,” Pastor Crosby said. “We’re called to love everyone and serve everyone, and sometimes we forget those that have special needs.”
Pastor Crosby’s children – 13-year-old Molly and son Elijah, who will be nine in two weeks – helped lead the motions, while wife, Kristen, led the craft Monday evening.
She said God’s Choice Church helps her interact with those who have disabilities at New Beginnings and hopefully organize their own branch in the coming months.
Poole’s son, Yorich, is one of about four teenage volunteers that routinely help Monday evenings. He and brother, Zander, helped with the offering baskets and motions as well.
A junior at West Shamokin High School in Rural Valley, Yorich said the activities and helping others bring him closer to God.
Pastor Crosby and parishioners wore shirts with the Biblical verse 1 Samuel 16:7 on it, which said that people look on the outside, but God looks on the heart, according to volunteer Debbie Holiday – a local parishioner for more than 60 years.
During the music, caregiver Sandy Smail of Kittanning Township led her “Rowdy Table” of clients to the music with her sister, Linda, of Center Hill.
A pair of the residents lives with Sandy as part of the life sharing program, and one of them is even learning to play guitar thanks to Pastor Crosby.
“The people here are wonderful – they’re really trying to make it work,” Linda said. “The church has been really welcoming and treats us like royalty.”
Robin Burkett, a caregiver at Evergreen Homes in Ford City for 24 years and Supervisor Heather Ruth, led a table full of residents Julie McComb, Sharon Gray, Paula Zion and Kathy Conn in song and to answer trivia questions based on the message.
“We really enjoy it because it gets them out, lets them learn a little about Jesus and gets them out with other individuals,” Burkett said. “They really enjoy the singing and the crafts.
“They look forward to it – that’s the first thing they ask me every morning, if we’re going.”
Poole led the message about delivering invitations – which corresponded with the craft since residents made invitations for people to attend their pizza party Monday evening.
Alice Houser, a caregiver at Evergreen Homes West Valley facility in Spaces Corners, is even a parishioner at Kittanning Free Methodist now after attending God’s Choice several times.
“It’s like part of their routine now, every Monday,” Houser said. “They love it.”
“It’s as much for the caregivers as it is the clients,” Poole added.
Poole said the evening activities are also open to other residential facilities as well as individual families. More information can be obtained by calling her at 724-543-7410.
A presentation of God’s Choice will also be held at General Conference this June.