SHAMOKIN - Donning a miner's helmet to symbolize the coal industry that fueled Shamokin's economy in its heyday, the Rev. Richard Earl spoke Sunday afternoon about the city's broad heritage and how churches have played a vital role during its 150-year history.

Earl, pastor of Mountainside Assembly of God Church in Coal Township, was among the clergy to speak at an ecumenical service sponsored by the Shamokin Area Ministerium at Claude Kehler Community Park that kicked off a week of festivities celebrating Shamokin's 150th anniversary.

The service drew approximately 50 people.

"We are here to celebrate the role of the church in the past 150 years in Shamokin," Earl said. "The purpose of the church is to bring the light of Jesus Christ to the community. The gospel, God and purpose of the church haven't changed. We have much to be thankful for.

"Prayer is the key, but only if it moves us to action," he added. "The church has become a light and source of hope for us for many years. It can't be on the wane. It must be on the move."

Earl talked about the immigrants from eastern and western Europe who settled in Shamokin and brought with them their language, food, customs and religion. "They cooked, sang and worshipped together, and were seeking better lives for themselves in this land of opportunity," he said.

He discussed how mining was a major industry in the coal region and the hardships miners and their families endured.

A 'great day'

The Rev. David Wildoner, pastor of Seventh Street Primitive Methodist Church and ministerium president, recited Scripture and thanked the Lord for providing a "great day" to kick off the anniversary celebration.

"Dorothy on the Wizard of Oz said there's no place like home, and that is certainly true for us in Shamokin," Wildoner said. "Home is where the heart is, where there is love and where we can have hope."

He talked about how Shamokin's forefathers had a great vision for the community, which prospered from the coal industry, garment factories and a vibrant downtown.

"We must have that same type of hope for the future of Shamokin and look forward to its 200th anniversary," he said.

Dexter Haight, an evangelist in training at Shamokin Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, presented a fire-and-brimstone type message.

"Christ belongs to all the people and the whole world and His gospel applies to all," he said. You will never have a hangover if you choose Christ, only joy and peace. We must share the gospel and show how great God is."

Sam Bellavia, pastor of Shamokin Christian and Missionary Alliance Church and ministerium secretary, who helped organize the service, offered prayer and introduced each of the speakers.

"It's great to come together as one church today to honor God as we thank him for our heritage and ask him to bless the future of Shamokin," he said.

Bellavia said too many people focus on what Shamokin was and what it is today instead of thinking about what it could become in the future.

Shamokin Mayor William Milbrand gave a welcoming address and thanked the clergy and citizens for attending.

Well-known local vocalist Brian Christiana sang "How Great Thou Art" and "Amazing Grace."

Susan Miller, of Shamokin Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, provided musical selections on the keyboard.

The service opened with the singing of "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty" and closed with the song, "My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less than Jesus' Blood and Righteousness."