NEW CUMBERLAND - New Cumberland Free Methodist Church is closed for renovations and a planned resurrection on Easter Sunday.
But officials with the Free Methodist Church's Pittsburgh Conference want to do more than reopen the church. They're giving it a new name, a new location and what they hope will be a new vision.
"After 100 years of Free Methodist work in New Cumberland, we felt we had come to the point of wanting a fresh start and a fresh location ... to continue the legacy of the Free Methodist Church in the Northern Panhandle," said the Rev. Bryce Grieco, lead pastor of Brooke Hills Free Methodist Church in Wellsburg.
New Cumberland Free Methodist Church, 208 S. Chester St., closed in late 2013 but is planning to reopen as Northbrooke Church at a new location on Easter Sunday (April 20). The old church building may be retained for The Arbor and the church’s other social service programs, which neighboring residents have come to rely on. (Photo by Stephen Huba)
Grieco said the church's closing in late 2013 - partly because of dwindling membership and partly because of the departure of longtime pastor, the Rev. Charles "Chuck" Thomas - gave denominational officials an opportunity to re-examine, and reimagine, the scope of the church's ministry.
The church, formerly located at 208 S. Chester St., New Cumberland, has been renamed Northbrooke Church and will be organized as a branch campus of Brooke Hills Free Methodist, Grieco said.
Church leaders are in the process of looking for a new location that will take the church north of New Cumberland and expand its outreach to everything north of Weirton - New Cumberland, New Manchester, Newell and Chester, he said.
"We believe God is doing a great work in Hancock County," Grieco says in a YouTube video on the church's website, BrookeHillsFMC.org.
Currently, the only other Free Methodist congregation in Hancock County is Weirton Heights Free Methodist Church, so church leaders believe the area has an untapped potential for ministry, Grieco said.
The model for the New Cumberland church's relaunch is one that has already been tried in East Liverpool and elsewhere in the Pittsburgh Conference, said the Rev. Steve Forsythe, lead pastor of First Free Methodist Church in East Liverpool.
Last summer, Forsythe and his wife, Carol, assumed leadership of Oakland Free Methodist Church in the East End in the hopes that it would draw strength and grow from a partnership with First Free Methodist.
Denominational officials want to do something similar with the New Cumberland church, Forsythe said. "It's almost like a brand new church," he said. "It'll be what we call a relaunch. Some of the people from the Brooke Hills church will come on board for six to nine months to give them a better core of people to get active ministries going."
Pittsburgh Conference Superintendent James B. Jobes proposed the idea to Grieco and foresees a time when Brooke Hills Free Methodist is a "multi-site" church with several branches, Grieco said.
"It's definitely the same Free Methodist, holiness tradition, the same Gospel message, but maybe just a little updated," Grieco said. "We have a heart for expanding and having multiple locations."
The branch churches will be united under Grieco's leadership, and each church will have its own campus director. Northbrooke Church's campus director is Joshua Green.
On Sunday, the preaching at Northbrooke Church will be done via live video streaming from Brooke Hills Free Methodist, but everything else will be handled locally, Grieco said.
Church leaders are keeping an open mind about the church's new home - considering everything from the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center to Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort, Grieco said. Right now, the latter is looking more likely than the former.
"We're in conversation with Mountaineer about the possibilities," he said. "They have been nothing but helpful to us, so I think that might just be one of the things we look at. It might be a challenge for some people to go to church in a casino."
Grieco said talks with Hancock County Schools about renting space for Northbrooke Church have stalled.
As for the New Cumberland church building and its social outreach programs, they will remain closed until Northbrooke Church is on a more sure footing, he said. "We feel like we need to be singularly focused on relaunching this church. Once we do that, we'll be able to re-evaluate all those service ministries," Grieco said.
Among those ministries is The Arbor, started by New Cumberland Free Methodist as an after-school program in 2003, and the Arbor Thrift Shop, 116 N. Chester St., which also is closed indefinitely.
To spread the word about the new church, Green is leading a series of initiatives that he hopes will get people's attention. On Feb. 8 and 9, Brooke Hills and Northbrooke churches will serve free food concessions at the Oak Glen Junior Bears basketball games at the New Cumberland Municipal Building.
Later in the month, the churches will distribute Sparkle market gift cards, and in March, they will offer a "gas buy-down" promotion at three area gas stations, Grieco said. The promotion will allow motorists to save 50 cents on every gallon of gasoline up to 15 gallons, he said.