Evangelical Covenant Church of LeRoy celebrates past, future

LEROY — For more than a century, the little white church atop the hill in LeRoy has housed the faithful in worship on Sundays. To honor the church’s history and celebrate its future, the congregation is planning an anniversary event.

Formally named the Evangelical Covenant Church of LeRoy, the white church on Cherry Street is often referred to as the LeRoy Covenant Church.

The celebration will include a dinner, worship and a presentation at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 21, at the church, located at 201 E. Cherry St., LeRoy. The public is welcome and anyone wishing to attend is asked to RSVP by Sunday, Nov. 15, by calling (231) 768-5011 or emailing office@leroycovenantchurch.org.

From its Swedish roots to its current after-school program ministry for more than 100 children each Wednesday, the church has a lot to celebrate.

In 1890, the church structure which still stands on Cherry Street was built. Over the years, part of the church history has been lost because the early records are a mixture of Swedish and English, and nobody now knows what the Swedish records say. Throughout the years, several additions have been made to the church, including the current sanctuary area and fellowship hall.

Maintaining the vibrant nature of the church and building for the future are two areas of focus as the 125th anniversary celebration approaches, said the Rev. Jesse Slimak.

“For our anniversary, we asked, ‘What helped build the foundation for our current congregational health?’ And then we asked, ‘What structures can we put in place to ensure our continued health?’” Slimak said. “Churches always need to be involved in ministry and growing and building and not just celebrating the past.”

From that perspective, the anniversary theme is “Foundation for the Future.”

“I think we have a respect for the past, but we’re more interested in what the community is doing than in what we have done,” Slimak said. “What is God calling us to do in the near and far future?”

Part of the current focus of the church is on area youth, both children in families who attend the church and children in the larger community.

“It’s an interesting thing — we have a lot of kids, averaging 12 to 15 kids every Sunday,” he said. “That kind of stands out compared to other older churches, which tend to have an older population.

“We feel kids are full worshiping members of our community,” Slimak continued. “We don’t segregate them off.”

LeRoy Covenant does have age-appropriate Sunday School classes but also has a regularly scheduled all-church worship, during which children remain in the main sanctuary throughout the service.

“I have a kid do the call to worship,” Slimak said. “The all-church worship is very important, and we have the children involved. There’s research that shows kids who worship with adults are more likely to stay active in their faith when they go off to college.

“I think that’s the reason we continue to be a place that’s family-friendly and a place that takes the discipleship of those in attendance seriously, especially the discipleship of children. They’re the next generation of the church.”

Another youth-centric feature of the church is the weekly Jesus, Others and You Club meetings on Wednesdays after school. JOY Club brings more than 140 students from Pine River Area Schools to the church throughout the school year. Students range in age from pre-kindergarten through seventh grade.

“Average attendance on a Sunday is about 75 people, but on JOY Club Sundays, we swell to two or three times that amount,” Slimak said.

The men’s and women’s groups at the church also are active and the church is looking into creating a youth program for teens as the children begin to become part of that age group.

Looking to the future, Slimak believes as long as the church remains vibrant, it can last another 125 years.

“As long as the church continues to serve selflessly, then yes, there will be someone here,” he said. “Sometimes the instinct in churches is to hoard resources, to hold onto a certain amount of money or conserve efforts. The moment a church slips into that mindset, it means you’re nearing the end of the church’s life.

“Holding onto things, being inward-focused — ironically, that’s not a future. Investing in people and reaching out — that ensures the future of a church.”