SALEM- Emmanuel Lutheran Church members don't plan to hide behind the stained glass and ignore the drugs, violence and other problems in their neighborhood on South Broadway.
They've formed a committee to talk about the issues and determine what they can do to shine the Light of Christ in the area, with plans for a neighborhood meeting later this year.
"The goal is to have a positive impact amongst all the negativity through prayer, discussion and education - it's all about caring about our neighborhood," Rev. Alan Smearsoll said.
Smearsoll got the ball rolling in November, just days after a murder occurred less than a block from the church's front steps, when he delivered a sermon challenging his flock to become part of the solution for the problems.
He mentioned the murder, the meth labs found just a couple blocks away and the gun shots fired earlier in the year in the downtown. He asked "how might Emmanuel Lutheran Church witness to Salem? Is it possible we could stand at the forefront of tackling some of the issues around us as a church caring about its neighbors?"
"As a church in this community, we have good news to share. It is radical and earth shattering, but it is life-changing and life-giving," he told them.
He invited people to approach him after the worship service. About eight people came to say they wanted to meet to figure out a direction to take. On Jan. 19, a group of 10 people met, brainstormed and came up with a starting point.
Smearsoll said they decided to start with intentional prayer, including all affected such as the first responders, the counselors, the Columbiana County Drug Task Force, the victims, the alcoholics or drug-addicted and the perpetrators.
They decided to educate themselves to understand what's happening in the neighborhood. They need to learn about drugs, such as how to recognize them, and maybe have a representative from the police department or DTF talk to them.
Next they decided they'll need to focus on creating awareness within the congregation, share information and talk about what the committee members have learned during their fact-finding mission.
At the next meeting of the group, Smearsoll said they'll begin planning for the neighborhood gathering, inviting officials from the neighborhood, including Mayor John Berlin, members of the First United Methodist Church, Faith Chapel, the ROC, the local bars and businesses and the residents.
They may go door-to-door in the neighborhood, talking about the concern for the crime and violence and inviting people to the neighborhood meeting.
Once a program is in place that can serve as a model to other neighborhoods, Smearsoll said they'll share it with other areas of Salem and other churches in hopes that they can duplicate the efforts and eventually cover all of Salem.
"We're not going to solve the problems or eradicate the problems, but we can be a resource," he said.
He didn't go into detail on what they may be able to do in the way of programming, but said as a church, they're called upon to do something, to be Christ in the neighborhood.
"I think this is something that's going to be good for our neighborhood and in the long run, good for Salem," Smearsoll said.
Anyone interested in becoming involved can contact him at 330-332-5042.