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At 175, Jefferson United Methodist Church still growing, changing

November 15, 2018

Evelyn Christofel has been attending the same church for 89 years and counting. Having gone since she was 2, she’s the longest-tenured living member of the congregation. She even met her husband there.

Christofel, 91, is also one of the church’s longest-serving members. She helped seat tables at church dinners as a teenager, taught Sunday school throughout her life, once led the junior choir, and still helps bake apple dumplings for mission fundraisers.

“This is my place on Sunday morning,” the Jefferson Hills resident said. “That’s the way it is.”

In the 175 years that it’s been open, Jefferson United Methodist Church has been “my place” for countless others as well. Because the exact date of the church’s 1843 founding is not known, its members and ministry have celebrated the landmark anniversary all year long.

The church today counts approximately 200 members and is well-known to outsiders for its apple dumpling and apricot roll sales, proceeds from which benefit the church’s Methodist mission apportionment. Members say what keeps them coming back are the many friendly faces dotting the pews.

“We care about one another,” treasurer Margaret Uranker said. “We laugh with one another, we cry with one another, we help one another. I can’t ever remember a time that I was unhappy with anyone in the church.”

At a time when church attendance is dropping nationwide, Jefferson is eyeing ways to draw in new and younger members. The Rev. Cyndi Bloise said the church plans to bring on a Fresh Expressions practitioner in hopes of appealing to a new generation. The global Christian “fresh expression” movement experiments with the structure and setting of church services.

Bloise said the church could begin its own experiments -- such as worshipping without music or holding discussion-based services -- by Easter Sunday.

In her 15 months as JUMC’s pastor, Bloise said she’s tried to make her congregation more comfortable with the idea of attempting new things, even if those attempts end in failure. The challenge, she said, will be pushing the church forward without alienating longtime members.

“I try to communicate that if we’re doing something new, stories are going to be told of this time when we made a choice to cross over the mountains,” she said. “Stories are going to get told of the people who were brave enough to step out of their comfort zone and learn a new language and meet new people.”

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