Church celebrates 60 years of mission

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 14, 2004

Standing on the steps of the City Mission Church, the Rev. Jim Cremeans runs his hands through his white hair and shows off his trademark ear-to-ear smile as he reflects on much of the past six decades.

For 60 years, the City Welfare Mission and City Mission Church have lived by the motto to "be a door of hope for the unfortunate." Celebrating the milestone anniversary today, the partner organizations have kept that door wide open and spread hope and mountains of love to hundreds of thousands of people.

"We have seen a steady growth of the needs of people," said Cremeans, pastor/director for the past 37 years and a member for 45 years. "When I first started, we probably helped 500 to 700 families a year. Now it is probably 4,500 families. We have seen a steady growth, but the Lord has been good to us."

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The legacy of caring began on the second Sunday of October 1944. C.E. Murphy, a Mr. DeWitz, Catherine Grant and young minister the Rev. Raymond Lightner opened the doors of the city's mission on the corner of Third and Lawrence streets.

In December of 1973, the mission and church both moved to the current location at 710 N. Fifth St. Six years later, the organizations separated the finances to stand alone. And stand they have.

The organizations have grown to include several full-time employees, countless volunteers, a church, fellowship hall, clothing building, shelter and storage building.

During Cremeans' time with the mission, they have provided assistance to 96,753 families, 169,723 adults, 181,379 children and 16,356 homeless people. This does not include the annual Thanksgiving dinner that has served thousands more who need some holiday cheer.

Last year alone, the mission helped 4,405 families in a myriad of ways including food orders, utility payments, clothing, furniture, Christmas toys and food and meals.

The church gets its funding from its more than 100 regular members. The mission receives help from a variety of Good Samaritan individuals, businesses, churches and organizations.

"We couldn't operate without the community. I couldn't say enough good things about our community," Cremeans said. "I think we have had a good name and a good reputation. They know if we can help, we will help."

For the past 8 years, Ironton resident Bertie Friend has made time a few days a week to stop in to help at the mission. From cooking, to cleaning to working with the youth, Bertie does whatever is needed - much like the mission itself.

"We just help our neighbors. Then they help us," she said. "That is what you are supposed to do."

Everything they do at the mission is a reflection of Pastor Cremeans, Bertie said, adding that no one in need is ever turned away.

"The mission helps all kinds of people. We give out baskets on Christmas, cook big dinners on Thanksgiving and give people clothes and blankets. I think this is very, very important."

Representatives at the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization couldn't agree more.

Shirley Harmon, director of the Home Energy Assistance Program, called the mission a big help to her program because anytime someone is in need Cremeans and the organization really step to the plate.

Harmon remembers as a child the Rev. Lightner bought her and her siblings brand new shoes. This tradition of giving has only continued

"Oh my gracious sakes, the mission has just been a lifesaver," she said. "That is all there is to it."

Cremeans is quick to point out that the mission does not only help those who come to them but actually takes its message on the road. Each week, the church conducts two nursing home services, a jail service and a program for seniors. The gospel hits the airwaves on WEMM FM 107.9 at 5 p.m. Sundays and on television channel WB 30 out of Portsmouth every Sunday at 9 a.m.

"We are commanded to take the gospel out," Cremeans said. "Those in nursing homes and behind bars can't get to the services so we take the word to them."

With the excitement of the anniversary obvious on his face behind the clear glasses, Cremeans said he knows that as long as there is a need, there will be a mission.

"I believe with all of my heart that if the world is still standing in another 60 years, then the mission will still be here, too," he said with a smile. "Our motto has always been, and will be, to be a door of hope to the unfortunate and I know someone else will pick up the mantle once I am gone."

Thousands of Lawrence Countians can only hope and pray that he is right.