The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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August 23, 2013

New Church encounters challenges

Apostolic congregation has trouble delivering message

PORTAGE — Around 20 years ago, Justin Rainey said he witnessed a man who was in need of a heart transplant – someone who had trouble walking in and out of church – leave a Pentecostal service with a spring in his step.

“He didn’t need a new heart,” said Rainey, assistant pastor of the apostolic New Church of Portage. “God gave him a new one.”

Rainey’s congregation is looking to bring its free and unstructured form of worship to the Ebensburg area. They are trying to gather those who believe in “miracles and in the healing power of Almighty God,” according to an advertisement that appeared recently in The Tribune-Democrat.

The small, 20- to 25-person congregation has been meeting along Conemaugh Avenue in Portage for more than 10 years, according to Rainey.

Rainey’s family – led by his father-in-law, Pastor Edwin Tucker – began leading the church around six years ago.

They may not have the numbers of a denominational congregation, but Rainey said they still provide a full service, which includes healing the afflicted through the power of prayer.

“If someone has a need, we will pray for them. We’ll give room for God to move,” he said.

Tucker said the perception of nondenominational churches is a tough obstacle for his church to overcome.

To that end, New Church members have organized bake sales, car washes, street carnivals and even two appearances on the Portage Area Summerfest stage to endear themselves to the community.

“To show them we’re not a bunch of wackos,” Tucker said, although he deigned to use the term. “(If it’s not a common denomination), people begin to think you’re some fly-by-night that came along. This church has been around a long time, this denomination.

“It’s not anything new.”

Rainey said the “laying hands” technique is also common spiritual practice.

“The Bible clearly tells us that ‘if there are any sick among you, let them come and let the elders of the church pray for them,’ ” he said. “We’re not going to shake them to death, but we will anoint them with oil and pray for God to heal them.

“We believe that when you come to God and you come to church, it should be more than a thing you do out of obedience. You should leave better than when you come.”

 Tucker said New Church hasn’t received many new congregants from the Ebensburg area, either through the phone number  in the advertisement or mail-in form. The deadline for response is Sept. 7.

Rainey said a meet and greet would be scheduled for Sept. 14 at an Ebensburg hotel for those interested in joining.

“If there’s not much interest then we’re not going to pursue it,” Tucker said. “I’m a little disappointed in the response.”

Justin Dennis covers Portage for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/JustinDennis.

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