John Owens, pastor of Victory Family Church, said he sees good things happening with people coming together in New Castle, and Saturday’s tree lighting and parade were good examples.
Owen, who came to New Castle with his wife, Kara, about two years ago to head the New Castle branch of the Cranberry-based church, emphasized the importance of “unity” as the keynote speaker at Tuesday’s annual Thanksgiving Praise Breakfast at the Lawrence County YMCA.
The free community gathering, known as the “Tom Robinson Memorial Thanksgiving Prayer Breakfast,” is held in memory of Robinson, who was a YMCA director for 30 years. He died in 2005.
Lucy and Joseph Musolino, married for 65 years, said they always attend the breakfast together to honor Robinson’s memory. Joseph is 90 and Lucy is 85.
“We were good friends of Tom Robinson,” Lucy said, adding that she knew him from his having worked at the local bank. “He always made me understand everything, and he never ignored anybody. He had a lot of respect for the customers.”
The Musolinos, who are South Side residents, were among about 30 people who attended the buffet breakfast catered by Medure’s that included scrambled eggs, sausage and potatoes, pastries, a fruit bowl and coffee.
Lucy said they find comfort in attending the event with people coming together “when the world just isn’t the same anymore.”
She was one of 15 siblings in her family “and we all had a lot of respect and we never got in trouble. I think that church was the reason.”
Owens echoed her sentiments in his talk of unity, saying, “When a house is divided in half, it’s subject to destruction and laid to waste. A house divided itself will not stand.”
Backing up his reasoning with Bible passages, Owens continued that “when people are in a community, a power comes over the group. Unity is pretty important to God. Unity starts within us in our families and in our homes before we reach the cities.”
Quoting verses from Matthew, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Verse 38 says this is the great and first commandment, and verse 39 continues, with the second commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” Owens said.
“Our neighbor is anybody whom we encounter,” he said. “You don’t have to agree with someone to love them. You don’t have to vote the same way to love someone, and you don’t even have to like someone to love them. Love is not an emotion. It’s an action.”
Unity is supporting one another and other ministries in town, Owens said.
“I have so much hope for this city,” he continued. “There’s something special going on here in New Castle. I have hope that it’s finding its way back and is being rebuilt.”
Victory Family sponsored a free fuel day last week and a gave away free tanks of gas to a limited number of people, but cars were lined along Wilmington Road to partake of the church’s generous offering.
“I got to talk to so many people and tell them that God loves them,” Owens said. “That really was the goal of the event. Some people started crying, because they haven’t heard that in a long time.”
Owens cited the chapter and verse of Luke 6:27-31: “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.
Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
He concluded, “Let’s watch God do something amazing in our city.”
Lawrence Williams, president of the New Castle NCAAP, said he attended the breakfast to talk to other community and church leaders about the upcoming Martin Luther King Day, seeking ideas on how to make it better and include the whole community.
”I want it to be a unity thing, where everybody comes,” he said.
He described Owens’ talk as “heartfelt,” and “out of sight.”
He sees the New Castle Y as a symbol of unity, pointing out that in the early 1960s, there were two YMCAs in New Castle — one was Black and one was white. Now they are one.
”We really want to establish relationships just to have everybody involved,” Williams said.
Members of the YMCA board of directors gave the welcome and introduced the program participants. Special music was by guitarist and singer Stephen Hagg, who plays music for Victory Family Church.
His rendition of “How Great is Our God” moved breakfast attendees to stand and sing along.