LEWISTOWN - The new youth and discipleship pastor at Pine Glen Alliance Church has one goal: Do for others what was done for him.
At age 15, Rev. James Connolly said, he was headed down the wrong path. He didn't live a life in the church growing up and he found himself getting into trouble often.
Connolly's life changed one day when a friend invited him to attend a church group at a local skate park. He said the love the group showed him was something different than he had ever been shown before.
Rev. James Connolly
"They were real," he said.
It was at age 17 that Connolly said he felt called to be a pastor. Finally, the goal he set in his youth has become reality.
"Everything is just a perfect fit here," he said.
Connolly spent most of his youth in Baltimore, Mad., but often traveled to Pennsylvania. He said he has always had a passion for the area and having the opportunity to move here was "a breath of fresh air."
As he settles in at Pine Glen, Connolly said youth group meetings are just getting under way. Alive Youth Ministries, open to grades six to 12, meets from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. every Sunday. Connolly said he strives to make the group fun by connecting with the youth through music, athletics or their other interests.
"I'm just trying to meet people where they are," he explained, "...erase that identity that you have to be perfect to come to church."
Instead, Connolly said the group is about making real relationships with the youth and letting them know they have a place where someone cares about them.
"At this age, you're trying to identify," he said, adding that many youth are still trying to fit in and figure out who they are.
During the teenage years, Connolly said, it's important for youth to have access to a group where they feel accepted and wanted, not alone. Rather than expecting teens to "be something already" when they come in, Connolly meets them where they are and encourages them to take the next step in their relationship with the church.
"It's a delicate age," he said.
Over time, Connolly hopes that getting more youth involved will bring more families to the church and create a closer family relationship than they had before.
The changes are only beginning at Pine Glen, but Connolly already has goals for the future. He hopes to bring more churches together to host bigger youth events on a regular basis and change the way people view church. Connolly said he wants to help build a church that people would fight for if it were to be closed.
Those interested in joining the youth group at Pine Glen Alliance Church can reach Rev. Connolly at 899-7740, XT. 3. Prayer meetings are also held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. every Wednesday at the church.