First Posted: 5/3/2013
It took 62 years, but National Prayer Day came to Pittston.
Standing at a podium in front of city hall on Thursday afternoon before a semi-circle of 60 people from the neighborhood, the city offices and his own parishioners, the Rev. Samuel Washington of the Perspective Church talked about the revitalization of Pittston.
He asked the people to bow their heads and he prayed, thanking God for “everyone who has taken care of this city” and asking Him to watch over “her police, firemen and administration.”
Reverend Washington, an African-American, talked about his skin color saying, “I look different than most people in Pittston.” Hearing a few stifled chuckles, he said, “It’s okay to laugh” and they did.
The Reverend said one of the reasons the Perspective Church moved to Pittston three years ago was because “Pittston people didn’t see color. They embraced me.”
City manager Joe Moskovitz, who stood with Police Chief Robert Powers and Fire Chief Jim Rooney agreed. “We have embraced him and his church. We can embrace them because they are a positive influence. It’s across the street from city hall and very active, very visible. Council, the mayor and former mayor Lombardo have developed a relationship with him and his congregation. They’ve participated in community events like the Christmas tree lighting and he spoke at the mural dedication. They are making a positive contribution. We want to be inclusive and diverse.”
The Reverend agreed in turn saying, “We didn’t come here with a hand out, we came here with a hand to help.”
Washington came from New Jersey to the Scranton area with 15 to 20 families about 10 years ago, to “plant” a church. They moved around to Daleville,Dunmore and Dickson City. “We did storefronts and things like that,” he said, ” we but couldn’t find a place to settle.”
Moving around was trying and an incident of racial graffiti in the Scranton area didn’t help.
Pittston changed that three years ago. “This is the first place we bought. The first place we put a name on. Before that we didn’t want to give a congregation false hope that we would be there for them unless we knew.”
But settling in Pittston took some doing. “I had dream we were supposed to move to Pittston. We rented a place and it was just to small. We moved back to Scranton. We were still in boxes and my wife was doing some research on line and ‘lo and behold your not going to believe this’ she said, ‘there’s a church building for sale in our price range in Pittston.’”
It was the Rock Church on Broad Street, which had been a synagogue in the deep past.
At the time, Washington’s Perspective Church had a TV show on the local Fox channel. Washington met with Judge Pierontoni “I asked him what can we do for Pittston and he said ‘I never had anybody come into my office and ask what they could do for Pittston, they always ask what can Pittston do for them.’ I asked him to watch our show on Fox and the next day he called and said what can we do to get you in Pittston.”
Pierontoni and the city arranged for Washington and Perspective to use the Jefferson Park building for free for three months, while they saved enough money for a down payment on the Rock building.
Some didn’t believe it would work. “The former pastor said we couldn’t succeed here. A, they don’t want the gospel. B, they don’t want diversity. People in Scranton said ‘you’re jumping from the frying pan into fire,’ that it’s worse in Pittston”
But that wasn’t the case. “I found it very opposite when we came here. I never felt that. I never felt it in my heart. We didn’t try to say we have the answer. That’s a little insulting to the people who are already here. We didn’t say we can change the town, we came in asking where we could help.”
The church has a roster of 200 to 300, many, but not a majority of whom, are people of color. “I’m a minority in my own parish,” Washington said. “Most of the congregation is white.”
The church adopted the Riverfront for clean up, started a boxing program which has grown to 30 to 40, a cyber school and a dance school. Washington’s daughter, Christina Brunotte, 22, runs the dance school in the church. She, like her father once was, is a gymnast with Olympic aspirations. Her goal is to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team. “It sounds silly,” she said, “But I’ve been a gymnast since I was two.”
Washington has three younger girls at home, including a pair of twins, and his wife Sarah is pregnant with a boy.
Washington was happy with the turnout at the inaugural National Day of Prayer in Pittston, considering the event had been organized in just a two days and said to rousing applause, “Next year, let’s block the street.”