Open house will offer glimpse of historic church now home to youth center

SALEM – Long before young people socialized at the non-denominational ROC on South Lundy Avenue, families of Romanian ancestry worshipped at the same site, a different ROC at a different time.

Area residents can learn about both ROCs, the former Romanian Orthodox Church and the current Representatives of Christ, along with the architecture of other churches in the area during a free open house from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday hosted by the Salem Preservation Society and the ROC.

“We said ‘wouldn’t it be nice to let the public see this historic building?’” event organizer Ginger Grilli said.

Grilli is a member of the Salem Preservation Society, which is celebrating May as Preservation Month and trying to offer more educational opportunities regarding preservation to the community.

She explained the church building which first opened in 1897 is a good example of repurposing, or finding another use for an old, historic building. Visitors can park in the municipal lot on Lundy and Pershing and enter at the front door with the concrete steps to see displays about the architectural, religious, and social significance of the historic site.

According to a press release issued by Grilli, members of the former Romanian Orthodox Church will dress in traditional outfits and “tell stories about the vibrant community that shared not only a religion but a culture and customs.”

There will be a display of iconography and common features of Orthodox churches. She explained that a lot of Orthodox churches rely on ornamental images and the former church in Salem was no different.

Rosemarie Sulea Cardoso, whose wedding photo displays the iconostasis at St. John the Evangelist Romanian Orthodox Church on South Lundy Avenue in 1968, will return to Salem from New York to join Georgianna Monda Bailey as hosts for the open house. Elaine Oana Reiter will direct visitors from the Salem Historical Society Museum, which will be open during the same hours.

The Salem Preservation Society will also have a photo display and discuss church architecture at the turn of the 20th century, featuring Salem houses of worship built prior to 1920. According to Grilli, the ROC was typical of churches of its time and common features of all the churches will be highlighted. She said photos of more than eleven early congregations from churches throughout Salem will be included.

“We have a lot of interesting things about churches in the late 1800s. We just wanted to share some of that with people,” she said.

Grilli shared some of the history of the church building on South Lundy Avenue in her press release, noting that German immigrants from Transylvania began arriving in Salem in the late 1880s. She said they hired a minister in 1892, rented space above Woolworth’s 5&10 and held Lutheran services.

They designed their own church and Emmanuel Lutheran held its first service at 261 S. Lundy Ave. on Christmas day 1897.

She said “tensions developed between parishioners who wanted to Americanize and those who wanted to retain their German roots. They eventually divided. In 1921, the congregation purchased the Saxon building on Broadway and in 1924, to decrease expenses, sold the South Lundy building to the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) parish for $6,500.”

In 1948, she said the building was purchased by St. John the Evangelist Romanian Orthodox Church (ROC). The ROC was formed in 1926 in Salem and had rented space at 880 East State Street.

“Founded by Romanian immigrants, St. John was the center of religious and community life for families of Romanian ancestry. Due to declining membership, in 1990, they elected to merge with St. Nicholas Romanian Orthodox Church in Alliance, Ohio. Many of the icons and church artifacts were moved there,” she said.

For the current history of the building, visitors can take tours and hear from local teens about the programs and services offered by the ROC (Representatives of Christ), a non-denominational community youth ministry offered by Director Eric Hamilton, adult volunteers and a board made up of representatives from at least seven different area churches.

The ROC first opened on New Year’s Eve 2009, with attendance doubled since then and open hours increased from six to 24 per month. The ROC is open from 7 to 10 p.m. every Tuesday and Saturday for young people ages 14 to 20. Activities include basketball, volleyball, ping pong, billiards, foosball, air hockey, cornhole, Wii, concerts, tournaments, socializing, eating, all-night lock-ins, and Bible devotion/discussion. All activities are free and optional.

Grilli wrote that “the purpose of the ROC is to give local teens a safe, fun place to gather where they can participate in constructive activities, make positive life decisions, and learn about Jesus Christ. Teens from all walks of life are welcome.”

Adult volunteers are needed to donate as little as three hours every three months, with individuals, churches, groups and organizations invited to provide or sponsor snacks for a Tuesday or Saturday night session. The nonprofit ROC relies on donations from the community, with all charitable contributions tax deductible.

To get involved, contact Hamilton at 330-974-8844 or

Mary Ann Greier can be reached at