FACES OF FAIRLAWN-WEST

Our members come from all walks of life. Here are their stories.


Photos and interviews by Jim Carney


Bob is a retired master fitter at Babcock & Wilcox and a cancer survivor. Fairlawn-He has undergone nine rounds of chemotherapy since he was first diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1995. He has worked with other cancer patients over the years to encourage them and show them the love he was shown during his illness.


“The last chemo I had was a derivative of mustard gas about five years ago. One time I was at another church and the minister and a couple of elders came down and I was getting treatment. I was crushed. I felt like I was giving up. The minister talked me through it and said you are tough and you have fought this before and you can do it again. She said, 'Reach down in your soul and fight this,' and that is what I did. It strengthened me and made me more aware of other people around me who are worse off than I am. Anybody I know who has cancer, I try to relate to them what I went through to help them so they aren’t scared.


"I have felt the power of prayer. I can feel the energy being passed on to me. I couldn’t have gotten through this without prayer. It is very draining and it works on you mentally. It really shakes your faith. But I always dug down deep and fought it and thought, I’ve beat it before and I will beat it again. All the prayer thoughts sent my way, I could feel. Prayer does work. It is the feeling that people are out there pulling for you when you are down and feeling bad. You can feel the weight you’ve been carrying lift right off of you. It is amazing.”


Mike and Mitch came to the church in August 2016 after meeting the Rev. Debbie Rhinesmith and asking her to marry them. The couple — Mike, retired from General Motors, and Mitch, a retired attorney — had been together for two decades, but thought it important to be legally married. Since then, they have both been active in church life, taking part in our Bible study and volunteering with Family Promise and other missions of the church.


Mitch: “We first considered a civil ceremony. But I saw the church’s website, and that it was open and affirming. That led me to call Debbie and we set up an appointment. We went down there expecting to spend 15 minutes but we spent at least an hour. We made it clear neither one of us was religious, but she reacted well to our disbelief. Instead of trying to convert us or condemn us she made it clear that that’s not the critical point. There was a time when I would have said I don’t believe in God, but I don’t say that any more.”


Mike: “I didn’t know what to expect when first meeting her, but Pastor Debbie made it clear she didn’t want to marry a couple who might split up a year later; we were pleased when, upon reflection, she agreed to marry us. On the day of the ceremony I provided a celebratory lunch and we attended services, after which our ceremony took place. We didn’t know anyone and were expecting maybe a witness or two to remain, but it seemed like the entire church stayed to see it. Afterwards we were congratulated by everyone attending. We returned the next few weeks to show our appreciation, but Debbie’s sermons are so enlightening that we became regular attendees. Her sermons on the Bible have been a revelation to us both. The church also allows us to ‘give back.’ Mitch and I have both been very lucky in our careers; We’ve had good jobs and good incomes. The church has given us an opportunity to help others by volunteering.”



Betty has been coming to Fairlawn-West for parts of seven decades. Her father died when she was in third grade. She and her husband John have three children and five grandchildren and have been married for 67 years. The graduate of Wellesley College will turn 90 next July. She served 21 years on the Akron School Board and says it is hard at this stage of her life to have lost so many of her friends. She regularly attends services and enjoys meeting new people.

 

“We joined in 1959 when it was Fairlawn Community Church. There were times I wanted to leave in the past. Our church got very volatile. There was lots of anger and ganging up on the minister at times. I still come because I love God and church and it is a comfortable place to be.  There are people here who have been here a long time. I go to church to meditate and talk to God. I pray a lot. Constantly. I pray for poor people. I thank him for the good things that have happened. I am thankful I have lived this long. Mostly I pray thanks for whatever happened that saved me or opened a door for me. God’s interface with me. I thank God because he is always there and always helping me. I think we all need to thank each other. I know I will have to give up my space here on earth. I will hate leaving my family. I am so blessed with my family. I’ve had such a long life. And I have my health.”


Courtney, a Philadelphia native, has been a member of the church for more than three years. She is a piano and viola player who once played viola with the Johnstown Symphony in Pennsylvania. She has received three degrees from The University of Akron – an undergraduate degree in English and two master’s degrees, one in composition and a master’s of fine art in poetry. She has worked for Oriana House for 17 years and currently is chair of the Preschool Board and is a member of Church Council. 

 

“I was Googling churches that were more accepting and understanding so that you could be yourself. This was the first one that came up. I talked to Susan Kolarik (church secretary and member). She said you don’t have to worry about looking a certain way or behaving a certain way. You can totally be yourself. I like working with kids. I think I can relate to them and I still have a youthful spirit. I keep coming because I feel like being part of Fairlawn-West I can have a genuine journey and get what I need spiritually to be a better person and more well-rounded. Also there is a sense of community. I have never come here and felt not accepted or felt different or like an outsider. It makes you want to keep coming back. I love it here. I never felt like an other. I am more grounded now.  Prior to coming here I didn’t feel like I was going to make it. I was terrified that my life was going down an unhealthy path. I was terrified of everything with no good reason. I felt lost. Here I look forward to coming to church. I feel like if something happens I have church family and I can say hey guys I am struggling in this area.”