AURORA — "The Awakening" at the former Aurora United Methodist Church is under way, under the leadership of the Rev. Mark and the Rev. Nancy Galambos, who have moved their Chagrin Falls area church to Aurora.
"The entire time we’ve been a church we’ve been renting," said Mark. "We’ve always been very good stewards of God’s money, so when it was time to do it, it was ‘OK. God’s already provided this to us.’"
River of Life Church, which they are rebranding as Awakening Church, had been located in a warehouse area near Chagrin Falls, and Nancy and Mark said they really wanted the congregation to own its own building.
Mark said the rebranding is appropriate as the congregation establishes its new home.
"Aurora means light; it’s the dawning," he said. "I believe the church is at a point right now where there has to be an awakening in the community and the church."
The Aurora United Methodist Church, which had been established in 1957, ceased operations last May, and several months later River of Life bought the property, closing on the church at 241 N. Aurora Road Sept. 27, 2019 for $325,000, according to Portage County property records.
With a congregation about 100 strong, not including out-of-town supporters, the church will undergo renovations in the coming years, including immediate work to reorganize the altar area to accommodate more contemporary services and spruce up the interior with fresh paint and carpet. Mark said more freedom of movement and accessibility to the altar for congregation members is important to the church.
They will remove some of the railings to create more space for the band and to invite the congregation to have a more personal relationship with God, he explained.
"Even though we’re cutting-edge and contemporary, we probably have about a third of our church who are 50-plus, and they love it just as much as the younger people," said Nancy.
In addition, Mark said they plan to create an outdoor gathering place where they can host picnics, games and events for the community. Some of the outdoor features may include a sand volleyball area, pavilion, basketball courts and an area for bocce or other lawn games.
In addition, he said there a plans to build a gym on to the existing building where events can take place in inclement weather.
Even though "community" isn’t part of the church’s name, Mark said Awakening Church will function as a church for the community, hosting a variety of events open to all, not just congregation members.
He said the church is planning a classic car show in June, clam bakes, a fall festival and more.
"The people are the church, and the church is the building that houses the activity," he added.
Nancy said she believes part of the church’s role is to provide a "safe haven" for families.
"There aren’t too many places where they can go as a family and to have fun and be safe," she said. "Our parks aren’t safe any more. Kids are getting stolen everywhere."
About five months into their time in Aurora, the couple is feeling more and more a part of the community as they meet with other church and community leaders.
Other programs offered include "Clean, Sober and Saved," a national drug and alcohol recovery program headed by former Major League Baseball star Darryl Strawberry and his wife Tracy Strawberry, as well as mission trips around the world, including Oaxaca, Mexico this fall.
"We’re involved in anything God calls us to do as far as building families," said Nancy. "God has called us in a lot of different directions.
River of Life began in 1999 as a healing, deliverance and restoration ministry, but Mark and Nancy have been sharing the word of God for 35 years and were ordained by Bishop Bill Hamon through Christian International Ministries.
In various settings, Mark said they have been empowered by God to perform miracles of healing, powered by their strong faith.
"We’re not your typical church," said Mark. "We’re very relevant; we’re very ‘present truth;’ and we’re very Biblical, but we’re not a stuffy religion. We believe Jesus and the Father were very relational with the people."
Reporter Bob Gaetjens can be reached at 330-541-9440, firstname.lastname@example.org or @bobgaetjens_rpc.