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We’re back to meeting

If you haven’t noticed, things are really starting to open up.

In case you’re still not sure, take a look at the daily pages produced by our community editor, Janice Kiaski. They are filled with details about events and gatherings that recently have been held, and, even more important, events that have been scheduled.

It’s a list that seems to grow each day, and one that now includes in-person commencement ceremonies for most of our region’s colleges and universities as well as all of our area’s high schools. Attendance might be limited, and participants likely will be required to wear masks, but graduates will have the opportunity to walk across stages and receive their diplomas during a real, live celebration.

That means the days of meetings and pseudo gatherings being conducted over video conferencing apps are quickly coming to an end, and we will be able to get back to being able to interact with our friends and colleagues in person.

Among those that have returned to the in-person schedule are the lunch meetings held by Faith in the Future. The luncheons have grown from what began as an annual prayer breakfast that traces its roots to 2005, after then-Bishop Daniel Conlon of the Catholic Diocese of Steubenville asked for prayers in response to the region’s dying steel industry.

The luncheons (ecumenical events, just like the breakfasts) are seen as a way to continue a common theme — to consider things that might still be hoped for — through the year.

Organizing things are Tracy McManamon, one of the founders of Faith in the Future, and Mike Florak, executive director of community relations at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. They felt it was important for the monthly events to resume, and have worked to ensure they have been successful.

While the luncheons previously had been held on the campus of the university, they have been held in a different location — First Westminster Presbyterian Church on North Fourth Street in downtown Steubenville — since they have resumed.

They have been good for the church, the Rev. Jason Elliott, pastor, and Amy Parikakis, director of marketing and communications, have explained. And, as Florak said Wednesday, they’ve helped local businesses, including Malta’s Pizza, which provided lunch for the February gathering, and Froehlich’s Classic Corner, which provided the meal on Wednesday.

The series resumed on Feb. 24, when Kelly Jeffers, director of new initiatives at Urban Mission Ministries, shared her story of how her belief in God has transformed her life. On Wednesday, the speaker was Nathan Marshall, who has done standup, a little acting, has taught and is now the senior social media analyst with the Highmark Caring Place.

“The Bible tells us time and time again not to worry about the future,” said Marshall, who came to the Northern Panhandle through Parkersburg and Sistersville, earned a bachelor’s degree in theater from Bethany College, a master’s degree in secondary education from West Virginia University and taught at Brooke High School. “When we start focusing on the future, it seems insurmountable, does it not? Does anybody here suffer from anxiety? Anxiety comes when you start thinking about all of those things that you can’t fix, all of those things around you.”

Marshall, who is a member of the Wellsburg Church of Christ and enjoys spending time with his wife, Shannon, and their newborn, Ashby, delivered a talk that spoke to the importance of faith.

“Did it ever happen that you were so close to losing faith, and then one person will say or do something that just restores your faith in humanity?” he asked. “It happens to me all the time, and it is so exciting.

“God is in our lives — nothing happens by mistake. Think of all of the billions of occurrences that had to happen for you to be here,” he continued. “There’s a reason you’re here — God put it in your heart.”

McManamon and Florak said they are working on plans for the next luncheon for the end of the month, and they asked that everyone watch for details. There’s never a charge to attend, but there is an opportunity to make a donation to help defray the cost of the lunch.

Each of the many events held across our region has a specific purpose, whether it’s to raise money, enjoy a performance or promote a cause. Faith in the Future helps to provide camaraderie, fellowship and the chance to hear an important message, and it’s good to know that it, like countless other groups in the region, are able to again hold face-to-face meetings.

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

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