The members of Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church love their celebrations, whether it be Women’s Day, Men’s Day or the pastor’s anniversary.
This month, there was to be a big one: the church’s 100th anniversary.
“We had planned on, for the 100, it was gonna be a boom,” said Rev. James Dixon, associate pastor of the Ulp Street, Masury, church.
“But now, with this situation that’s going on …” he said, trailing off.
That situation, the COVID-19 pandemic, has forced the church to cancel all of those events. It hasn’t had in-building worship since the governor closed churches in the spring. The 100th will pass only with mentions in individual conversations.
Yet, even without a celebratory party, there will be plenty of joy among the members as they recognize the church’s history.
“It feels good,” said Creola Snow of Masury, who, at 73, has been coming to the church since she was a child. “Very good.”
(UPDATE: Mount Olive will hold a celebratory service in the parking lot of the church at 11 a.m. Oct. 11.)
The congregation formed in 1920 when a number of “devout men and women assembled together for the purpose of conducting a prayer and praise service regularly in different places,” according to the program for the 1973 dedication of an expansion project.
The members first worshiped permanently in a building on Brookfield Avenue under the leadership of Rev. William Flowers, but bought the property on Ulp for a building that was constructed in 1925. It was destroyed by fire in 1930, rebuilt in 1936 under the Rev. J.E. Perry, and remodeled in 1945.
Rev. I. H. Holmes presided over the remodel and the creation of youth programs, several choirs, a Nurses Guild and a Deaconess Board.
“Under the competent leadership of Rev. Holmes, the spiritual and financial growth of our church exceeded all past records,” the 1973 program said.
When Dixon started attending the church in the early ’60s, “It was a powerful church,” he said. “It had a powerful preacher (Holmes). They had singing. We had three and four choirs. It was one of the most fired-up churches in the valley.”
The Rev. William B. Carswell succeeded Holmes, and the Rev. Raymond O. Brown has been pastor for more than 30 years.
Gone are the periodic revivals that fired up the congregation even more, and the county-funded weekday lunches in the church basement that fed the seniors in the community. Membership has fallen by one-third to one-half, Dixon said.
Yet, the members remain a close-knit bunch dedicated to each other and their church.
“We praise God, and we praise it right,” said Joe Kelly of Masury, a member for about 20 years, who also spoke of “the love and happiness we all have for each other.”
“We have a great congregation,” Snow said. “We all help each other out, and we all be together. Someone needs something, they can call each other. You got a problem, like my mother just passed away, I can call anyone and talk to them and they make me feel better.”
Mount Olive “has been a lifesaver for me,” said Veronica Peavy, of Youngstown. “Growing up in Brookfield, as far as racism, bullying and stuff, it was kind of hard for me. This was my safe haven. Everything that I learned was basically based on this church. This church is like a center point for the whole neighborhood, the whole community.”
The church members inspired Peavy to change careers. At 52, she’s attending Youngstown State University to become a special education teacher.
Without in-person worship, the food pantry on the third Saturday morning of each month has become an event for gathering for some of the church members.
“Anything that’s going on in my church, I want to be a part of,” said Peavy, a pantry volunteer.
The pantry serves 60 to 100 families a month, said Snow, who runs the pantry. “It’s getting more now, with the COVID,” she said, noting that any Trumbull County resident is eligible to receive.
Holmes trained pastors, and members who have gone on to pastor elsewhere are a Mount Olive legacy.
“Our church has raised so many people that went on to be pastors at other churches, first ladies, teachers,” Peavy said. “They come to flourish when they come from here. I miss a lot of them, because I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for people in this church.”
Although there are people like Peavy who will do whatever they can for the church, and it is led by Brown, an “excellent person” in Snow’s estimation, Dixon noted the average age of the church’s members is up there.
“Next 10 years, a whole lot of us are gonna be gone, I do believe,” said Dixon, 83.
Still, Dixon said he “ain’t going no where” until the Lord calls him home and, as long as he’s here, he’ll attend Mount Olive.
“We just keep on keeping on,” he said.
“I don’t want to go anywhere else,” said Peavy, whose grandchildren sometimes help out at the food pantry. “We’re not just a church; we’re a family.”