Faces of the Valley: Pastor leading the congregation of the Parks Township Church where she grew up

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Reverend April Bell loved going to church services growing up, but she never really thought about getting into the ministry — let alone leading the congregation at the church she attended as a child.

But in November, Bell will be installed as the next pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church in Parks Township.

Bell, 41, believes her path to ministry – first as a Sunday School teacher and now as Morning Star’s spiritual leader – is the result of her openness to the call of the Holy -Spirit.

“I tell people I was born in this church – I grew up just down the street and my mom was very active here,” Bell said. “But entering the ministry was not something I had ever considered.

“I thought I was going to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company because I studied business and marketing, and that was my path. I thought I’d just wear my little business suits every day. days and that I would have a career,” she said.

Bell graduated in 1999 from Kiski Area High School, where she played basketball and stood out on the track team. She attends Duquesne University on a full scholarship.

Bell’s call to ministry came after college and her marriage to her husband, Demond, 41, with whom she has four children: Darius, 13; twins Arianna and Alaysia, 12; and Aniyah, 10.

“After we got married and moved back to the area, we attended First Baptist Church in Vandergrift. That’s when I felt the call to do something more,” she said. “I just went to church on Sundays because that’s what my family did. But I knew there was more than that. I didn’t feel like I really knew who the Christ was.

At the request of the church’s pastor, the Reverend June Jeffries, Bell began to investigate his faith more deeply.

“When I started to know more about Christ, it became like a fire inside me,” she said. “Each time you draw near to Christ, you can recognize his voice. And the more you know it, the more you can hear it.

Jeffries asked Bell to begin her ministry teaching Sunday school and hired her as a minister-in-training, a four-year process akin to an apprenticeship. She also made Bell the pastoral assistant of the church.

“Looking back, I feel like it was all a setup that led me to becoming a pastor,” she said. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was learning church operations from scratch, which is an important part of the job.”

But more importantly for Bell, she was learning the positive role a strong pastor can play in the lives of church members.

“You have to have a heart for people,” she said. “I can get up and preach a wonderful message on Sunday morning, but if I don’t watch the sick or call my congregation, I’m not an effective pastor.

“I have to give people what they need. Not just any old word. You can browse the Bible and choose a scripture. But it’s more about hearing from God, so you’re giving them what they need right now,” Bell said.

Jeffries said it wasn’t long after meeting Bell before he recognized she had the talent, skills and composure to be a successful pastor.

“She’s smart, educated, well-spoken, pretty and doesn’t have to push her way around a room; it’s up to her,” Jeffries said.

But it wasn’t until Bell expressed an interest in learning more about her faith that Jeffries began looking for ways to guide and guide her.

“With some vocations, we look at character, personality, interests, and how they conduct themselves and assess whether they would make an excellent doctor, lawyer, or teacher,” Jeffries said. “But that’s not the case in the ministry.”

Jeffries believes the key to being an effective minister begins with “the calling of God.”

“It’s an internal call with no audience or witnesses,” Jeffries said. “And when most people get the call and realize what God is asking them to do, their response is, ‘You’re kidding me.’ ”

While the opportunity to pastor his local church came with the retirement last year of the Reverend James Nicholson after more than 20 years, it was still a role Bell was not seeking.

“I was involved in ministry and I was a preacher, but being a pastor is an entirely different thing,” she said. “I never thought I would be a pastor. I never wanted to do this.

In Nicholson’s absence, the church brought in ministers, including Bell, to tend to Sunday services and other pastoral duties.

“They started bringing me in more and more Sundays and then in June (church leaders) had a meeting and then called me to ask if I was interested in taking over as as a pastor. My first reaction was to cry. Then I prayed about it,” Bell said.

Bell said the final decision to accept the post of pastor came after speaking with her husband and weighing the time constraints of taking on the position.

“I work full-time (in the commercial department of Curtiss-Wright Electro-Mechanical in Cheswick), and we have four children who are involved in activities that we want to continue to be involved in,” she said. “But I think we can make it work. I feel that God is calling me to be a pastor and I am delighted to have the opportunity to serve this congregation.

Bell said one of his goals as a pastor will be to find ways to bring the community together.

“The way to do that is through love,” she said. “We want to be a light so that we can bring others to Christ. When I went to church here as a kid, it wasn’t a black church — everyone worshiped together. But now we are so divided as a nation. I think it’s important for us to go back to who we were in the past.

Bell noted that when the church was founded in 1917, several local congregations that needed a place of worship took turns using the building one Sunday a month.

“The great thing about it is that when people in one denomination had services on Sunday, the others didn’t stay home. Everyone came together,” she said.

“I would love to see us go back to that, because even though we worship differently or have a different ideology, we all follow one God,” Bell said. “It would be wonderful if we could learn to look beyond our differences to the things that make us similar.”

Bell also sees great value in guiding the congregation to find ways to put their faith into action.

“People tend to think of ministry as preaching or evangelism, and those are important, but we are all called to be disciples in our own way,” she said. “You don’t need the title of reverend or bishop to be a minister.

“Just telling someone what God has done for you is being a minister. Helping the person in front of you at the cash register who doesn’t have enough money is showing love and being a minister There are many, many ways to be a minister.

Bell also wants to increase the efforts of the congregation to support the local community by meeting some of their needs.

“We did things like collect and distribute backpacks for children and help the Salvation Army when they asked people to buy Christmas presents for people in need,” he said. she declared. “We are planning a winter coat drive and will look for other ways to help those in need.

“One of my missions is to help members of our congregation see that we are blessed to be a blessing to others.”

Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Tony by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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