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Plans based in faith

Among the many things that were put on hold due to restrictions that were put in place as part of the stay-at-home orders issued to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic were regularly scheduled meetings.

Most groups and organizations have not had a face-to-face meeting since the middle of March. Now, if you’re honest, there are some meetings that you can sit through that don’t leave much of an impression. And there are others that you will remember for a long time.

No matter what category a particular meeting falls under, though, at the very least they offer a chance to sit down and talk with people you know and get caught up on what’s happening in their work, their lives and the around the town.

That’s what made Wednesday’s Faith in the Future luncheon even more interesting. Those who attended the meeting at the Seventh Street Plaza in downtown Steubenville, had the chance to talk with people they might not have seen in a while, enjoy a meal and hear about the special work being done at that location by the Urban Mission Ministries — all while maintaining social distancing.

“We are grateful to be here,” said Tracy McManamon, president of Faith in the Future.

The luncheons traditionally have been held on the last Wednesday of the month during the fall and spring on the campus of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and are an outgrowth of the Faith in the Future prayer breakfast that is held every November. Whether in the morning or at noon, the goal of each of the gatherings is to encourage us to consider things that might still be hoped for, to pray for economic blessings for the community and to show thankfulness for gifts that have been received.

That made the plaza the ideal setting for the first meeting since the end of February.

“We thought it would be a great opportunity to come down and see the plans they have for this place,” McManamon explained. “It’s amazing what they have done over the years, but what they are going to in the future is really tremendous.”

It’s a future that will see the 20,800-square-feet of the part of the plaza that had one time been the location of several grocery stores transformed.

“We plan to use the plaza as a ministry site,” the Rev. Ashley Steele explained. “But it’s really a tool for the Urban Mission to live out its mission of listening with compassion and serving with love.”

Steele said the process of purchasing the plaza that covers the block of Seventh Street that runs between Washington and North streets took more than 12 years, a lot of prayer and a great deal of effort by staff members and volunteers to raise the needed money.

“I remember at one board meeting when I was unsure if we should go ahead with the purchase, one of our board members said, ‘What are we worried about? I like our chances with God.'”

The longtime Urban Mission executive director said many were involved in the effort.

“It took all kinds of gifts,” Steele explained.

“People have given so much, so sacrificially. Some gave a lot, some gave a little but, honestly, each was just as equal because people gave out of their trust, out of the wholeness of the holy spirit and their willingness to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”

Renovations likely won’t begin until the start of 2021, Steele added, saying the delays can be traced to concerns about the coronavirus. But when the work is completed, the facility will help to change the lives of those who live in our community.

“A couple of the primary things revolve around food, because that is something we are known for,” Steele said. “But they also revolve around getting people to break out of the cycle of poverty they find themselves in. We realize that while the services we provide, especially right now, are very important, we aren’t doing justice to the folks we serve unless we help them either get back on their feet or stand up for the first time.

“So, what you see here is a mixture of the past of the Urban Mission, and the future of the Urban Mission and how God has woven them together.”

That includes making fresh and affordable food available to those who live downtown, as well as making available space where members of the community can come together. There will be space for meeting rooms and space where classes will be offered, including GED, lifeskills and work force training. There will be space for affordable childcare, and, of course, room for prayer.

“We will have a pay-what-you-can restaurant,” Steele said. “We’ll be training people in culinary skills, and they in turn will be providing food and a service to the community. Everybody will be welcome. If you can pay, that’s great, and you can make a donation. If you can’t pay, that’s great, too. You will be welcome at the table.”

Steele always remembers to give credit for the success of her efforts to God. She explained that all of the work done at the mission can be tied into this year’s theme of the Urban Mission– ubuntu.

“It’s a South African term that simply means I am because you are. It’s a reminder to us all of our deep connectedness to each other, that I need you and you need me, that we can only experience the abundant life when the needs of our brothers and sisters are taken care of.

“It translates to so many of the things we do at the Urban Mission — if someone is hungry, then we can’t truly be full. If someone is homeless, then we truly don’t have a home. If someone is experiencing an injustice, then our lives are unjust. If someone is experiencing racism and their freedoms are being taken away, then I can’t be free.

“If someone is practicing ubuntu, they are following the steps of Jesus,” she continued. “They are loving, they are serving, they are sacrificing. They are doing so for the good of others, because we are all connected.”

Her words, and the work that will help the Seventh Street Plaza become a place where lives are changed, are important, especially during times like the ones we are living through now.

It all comes together to make a big difference in the lives of many, and fits in with the message Faith in the Future wants to spread.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)

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