Mount Pleasant Evangelical Friends Church Expands Ministry to Community
By LINDA COMINS
MOUNT PLEASANT — Inspired by its roots, Mount Pleasant Evangelical Friends Church is preserving parts of the village’s history and sharing its religious heritage with the community.
The church is adjacent to the historic Ohio Yearly Meeting House, built by the Religious Society of Friends in 1814. The former meeting house is now owned by Ohio History Connection and managed by the Historical Society of Mount Pleasant.
In addition to conducting Sunday school and worship services, the church is expanding its ministry into the community with events and programs for youth and senior citizens.
Friends (also called Quakers) began settling in Mount Pleasant in 1800. The Rev. Matt Close, who has been the church’s pastor for two years, said the original church started in 1801 and was located next to Short Creek Cemetery.
After that building burned down, the front part of the current church was constructed in 1868. “It has been added onto three times since then,” he said.
Currently, Mount Pleasant Evangelical Friends Church has about 65 members, drawn from the village and neighboring towns, including Colerain, Dillonvale, Smithfield and Martins Ferry, Close said.
“Our church has had a lot of ups and downs. We’re kind of reviving and building it back up,” he said.
The church now offers a Wednesday after-school program featuring a meal, Bible lessons and life skills for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. A Wednesday youth group also has been established.
Close said, “That kids’ ministry is huge. We now have 25 kids. A few years ago, we didn’t have any.”
The church also has bought an adjacent house, built in 1846 by Samuel Gill.
“That’s been a blessing for us,” the pastor said. “It’s another way to get involved in the community. It’s really been a large blessing.”
Restoration and repairs continue at the historic house, which is used for vacation Bible school, Bible studies, youth group, young adults’ meetings, dinners, ice cream socials and seniors’ luncheons. The church also opens the Samuel Gill House for the historical society’s annual tour.
“There are so many different ways to use the house,” he said.
Church member Nina Sutherland agreed that acquiring the historic house has provided opportunities to expand ministries. She said, “It’s a wake-up call to get us out of our four walls.”
In the 19th century, Friends played an integral role as abolitionists and supporters of the Underground Railroad movement in Mount Pleasant.
“The church is really part of that history,” Close said.
The church’s Women’s Missionary Fellowship and Men in Mission help people in need by paying bills, providing dinners and buying appliances, the pastor said.
Men in Mission members also are building a cabin at the Friends camp, located east of Carrollton. Close said, “We’re trying to grow it so we have more church events and outside groups.”
Evangelical Friends’ biggest emphasis is “the personal life change — I can know Jesus personally and He can change my life for the better personally,” the pastor said. “We do that as a group. Each and every one of us has the same potential. Everyone around us can be changed for the better.”
Noting that Friends condemned slavery 140 years before the Civil War and have had female preachers since the 1650s, he said church members believe “everyone is just as valuable as everyone else. We really seek out to be a tight-knit community. We draw together and seek that change for the better of everyone … God loves everyone. We need to show that love to everyone.”
The Mount Pleasant church is the first pastorate for Close, who holds a bachelor’s degree in religion and a master’s degree in Quaker studies. He and his wife and their three children, ages 8, 6 and 3, live in Mount Pleasant.
After growing up in Beloit Friends Church near Alliance, Ohio, he attended Malone University for two years and interned as a youth pastor at Alliance Friends Church.
Close continued his education while serving in the Navy for 10 years, from 2005-15.
He is now working on a doctorate in leadership.