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Easter is already here for Ada's displaced United Methodist congregation

By Amy Eddings

Ash Wednesday has the potential of being an emotionally awkward moment for the fire-displaced members of Ada’s First United Methodist Church. The service, which launches the solemn, 40-day Christian season of Lent, will be the first in the new building on the grounds of the former church at North Main Street and Highland Avenue.

“The penitential part will be hard to hold,” Rev. Mary Jo Yeakel, pastor, conceded to Ada Icon following Sunday’s service at the Walter and Marian English Chapel at Ohio Northern University, where the First United Methodist community has worshiped since the massive March 13, 2012, blaze destroyed their 1899 stone church.  “It’s such a celebration.  The last Ash Wednesday we had in the old church would have been not long before the fire.” 

Pastor Yeakel said that, underneath the Easter-like joy over the resurrection of their former worship space, there’s plenty of Lenten reflection and change that still has to happen.

“We’re going to have to figure out how to live together again in the new setting,” she said.  “The question is, do we simply slide back into what we used to do? Or do we take this three year journey in the wilderness, and bring it to life in our new church?” 

Her challenge was echoed by member Bob Ward.  "People are going to come to see what the new building looks like.  But are we going to be the type of church that’s going to make them want to stay?"

Ward’s wife, Karen, has toured the sparkling, new space, and said Lent will be a time for her to reflect on how she can live up to it.

“When I go in there, I’m humbled,” she said.  “Could I be as beautiful as this?  How can I clean myself out to be that new, transformed person to properly represent the church of Christ?"

Bob McCurdy, who heads the church’s building committee, said that as Lent approaches, he’s been thinking about the gifts people have shared during the rebuilding effort.  “For me, that’s a lot of what Lent has always meant, what can we give up to God?  Our has been a three year Lent, in many respects.” 

McClurdy marked an important milestone in that journey with worshippers on Sunday, telling the approximately 60 people assembled on a bitterly cold morning that state inspectors gave their final approval to the new structure on February 13 and issued a certificate of occupancy.  McCurdy said even though it was a routine step, he was anxious nonetheless.

“Friday was our go-no go for Ash Wednesday in the new building,” he said.

The service will be at 7 p.m., presided over by Pastor Yeakel’s 86-year-old father, retired Bishop Joseph H. Yeakel.  Pastor Yeakel described him as being “as excited as a three-year-old” to participate. She said that, as a young pastor, he, too, led a faith community through a rebuilding process.

"If there’s anybody who’s understood what we’ve done, it’s my dad, because he went through that,” Pastor Yeakel said.  She grinned, delighting in the synchronicity.  "It’s just kinda cool."

On Sunday, Feb. 22, Ada’s First United Methodist Church will hold a 10 a.m. worship service for the last time at the ONU chapel, followed by a procession down Main Street to the new church, carrying a cross saved from the fire, and a piece of sandstone from the old building’s facade.  Pastor Mary Jo Yeakel urged everyone to participate, despite what’s likely to be another typical, central Ohio midwinter day.

“I’ve seen people sit outside in crazy cold for four hours for a football game,” she said.
“We have less than a mile walk. Come on! This is for Jesus! This is a demonstration to the world that a very hard piece of work has been accomplished."