New ministry looks to serve community


The almond tree figures prominently in Biblical lore – to determine the tribe of Israel that would become His priests, God commanded each leader to provide a rod, and the one that flowered overnight would be the chosen tribe. As the story goes, the rod of Aaron sprouted almond buds and blossoms, like the branch of an almond tree, and the Levi tribe became the chosen one.

The story was one of the influencing factors in the naming of the new Almond Branch Ministries, said Pastor Cindy Parker, but it’s also because the church plans on reaching out beyond its own walls.

“We don’t plan on being just our own church,” Parker said. “We envision missionary work and ministries that will branch off from us.”

Almond Branch got its official start last September, when paperwork was started and various administrative positions were secured. Unofficially, however, it started months earlier, when Parker was just finishing pastoral ministry studies through Rhema Bible Training College.

Parker always had been a devoted and involved churchgoer, serving as secretary for New Covenant Full Gospel Church in Montoursville for 14 years and leading various life groups at City Church, but after working for 42 years as a hairdresser, she felt compelled to take her involvement to a higher level.

“I’m not young, but it was time for a new adventure,” Parker said.

After becoming ordained as a pastor in July of 2013, Parker was approached by a group of individuals – mostly fellow attendees at City Church – who were interested in starting their own church.

That was in August, Parker said, and it got the ball rolling.

“From the first week of September up ’til now, we got almost everything ready,” she said. “We have our attorney, our accountant and we’ve filed for 501(c)(3) status,” the tax-exempt charity status that most churches fall under.

Attendees had a place to worship, as well. Almond Branch was offered the opportunity to rent the former St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, which is on Almond Street – another factor in the naming of the church, Parker said.

The use of the church sanctuary, where Almond Branch holds its life group meetings and worship services, came about by a bit of serendipity.

Parker’s husband, Tom, who serves as an adviser to the church’s board of directors, was talking with a neighbor soon after the discussions of a new church had started, she said.

“He (the neighbor) mentioned that he had purchased the building when St. Mary’s closed,” Parker said. It was “unexpected but very welcome,” and the group decided to rent the space, holding its first service on Nov. 2.

Having the church space is “wonderful,” Parker said, adding that the group has use of the sanctuary, the kitchen, a children’s ministry room and the adjacent hall, although a separate church group uses that for its Sunday services.

The congregation is “still small,” said Jessica Wurster, who is in charge of music, typically between 10 and 20 people every week, but with the guidance of Parker and the board of directors – President Dave Lanzer, Vice President Eric Wurster, Secretary Barbi Lanzer, Treasurer Richard Shannon and advisers Wurster, Tom Parker and Robert Parker – they anticipate growth in the future.

Wurster echoed the sentiments made by Parker about “branching out.”

“We want to be involved with other churches, to help each other, to promote unity of the churches,” she said. Wurster also noted that Almond Branch is in discussions to become involved with missionary work in Bolivia, working with children and education.

The church offers a unique schedule, Parker said, holding its weekly worship service from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Saturday.

“It’s different, but it seems to work for everyone,” she said. If the congregation grows significantly, they would consider moving services to Sundays, she said, but for now the Saturday service fits everyone’s schedule.

For Parker, the decision to lead her own church didn’t come easily, but ultimately, she knew it was the right choice to make.

“I prayed over it long and hard,” she said, “but now I know that it was meant to be.”