Niles pastor seeks to inspire others to better their community

NILES — On a hot July day last summer, volunteers for Relevant Church did not set out to escape the heat by hunkering down in the air-conditioned confines of their homes. Rather, they fired up the lawn mower, grabbed rakes and gardening tools and set to work for the annual Serve the City event.

Over the course of two days, volunteers from Relevant helped community members with yard work and home repair projects. They also reached out to local charity organizations, including the Niles-Buchanan YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club and spent time volunteering or sprucing up the properties.

The Serve the City project is one of many that people who attend Relevant Church complete throughout the year. This is because Muta Mwenya, 35, the pastor of Relevant Church, believes his duties encompass more than inspiring worship, he said.

“Our faith is something that is active and not reserved for Sunday mornings,” Mwenya said. “We don’t believe church is a building. We believe church is a people.”

By helping others in the Niles community, Mwenya said Relevant’s congregation is following the teachings of their nondenominational Christian faith. 

Mwenya has been leading the church for the past four years. He and his wife Christine first started the church by encouraging people to get together and talk about their faith over a couple of fresh pizzas at Pizza Transit.

“We had a group in there every Monday evening being rowdy, laughing and joking,” Mwenya said. “We just ate pizza, talked about Jesus and laughed a lot.”

With the Monday sessions getting bigger each week, Mwenya spent a year hunting down different available spots to preach from. Eventually, Mwenya said he knew he needed to find Relevant a permanent home.

In December 2016, Mwenya moved the church into the basement of 210 E. Main St. While transforming the former office space into a place of worship was a bit of an undertaking, Mwenya said congregants were eager to donate their time to the project.

Before adding a fresh coat of paint to the walls, each volunteer scrawled a prayer on the wall that will long be part of the church.

Looking back on his time as pastor, Mwenya does not like to give himself credit for starting the church.

“I may be the lead pastor, but I did not found the church,” Mwenya said. “We all had a heartbeat for the city of Niles and joining all the good stuff that has happened here.”

In addition to taking on tasks like Serve the City, Relevant has formed partnerships with the Ferry Street Resource Center and the Pregnancy Care Center. Through the partnership, the church parishioners volunteer and help with tasks that the charity organizations need to have done, such as cleaning windows and raking leaves. 

Those who have ever patronized the Niles District Library or the Hunter Ice Festival are likely to have caught a glimpse of a Relevant Church volunteering, lending their time to help the community.

Looking back to his time before he was a pastor, Mwenya said there were many people that inspired him on his career path, but one that sticks out is his father, Mwaba. His father worked as a businessman in the insurance agency and he was always taking time out of his day to help those in need.

“The way he cares about people genuinely has always been an inspiration,” Mwenya said.

While this inspiration is seen in Relevant’s community efforts, it is also helps to guide the lessons Mwenya teaches at the church. 

“Something that is big for us is loving across boundaries,” Mwenya said. “That is helping people understand that our faith and the story of Jesus is about reconciliation and bringing people who might be opposed to each other together to discover that what unites them is deeper than what separates them.”

With these foundations as his compass, Mwenya hopes to lead the community as well as his three sons into a life built upon helping others. 

“I don’t see myself as a community leader,” Mwenya said. “I really just see myself as someone who cares. I want to see people thrive.”

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