In June, The Salvation Army opened a new corps building in Bellevue, Pa., just outside Pittsburgh, but that’s only half the story.
The North Boroughs Worship & Service Center is being led by a pair of newly commissioned officers—Lieutenants Kelly and Tylar Melfi. The Melfis, along with their two young sons, showed up in August to their first-ever appointment just a few weeks after graduating from the College for Officer Training (CFOT) and in the midst of COVID-19.
“I’d like to think it’s a huge vote of confidence,” Tylar says. “There’s an expectation and we’re honored to meet that expectation.
“This is not only a new appointment for us, but we’re in a brand-new building. We’re starting in kind of a new community and getting everyone here to know what we’re about. This has been a really good experience so far.”
It took construction crews a while to establish a firm foundation for the new building, which was constructed on the site of a former American Legion hall. The biblical metaphor of building on solid rock, discussed by Jesus in Matthew 7, was not lost on the Melfis, who said prayer has been a constant as they tackle what is essentially a church plant.
Depending on God
“It has forced us to completely and utterly rely on the Lord,” Kelly says. “I see what He’s doing. I know what He’s up to here.”
Tylar said he remembers being told at the CFOT that corps work is not only challenging, but he will never feel as if the work is done. The key is constant prayer.
“The truth is, the work is never done,” Tylar said. “That is the reality. The huge challenge is remembering to pray in every single situation, every single day. When we get run down, we pray for the strength to continue.
“We have to keep our eyes fixed on the most important things because there’s so many distractions. There are so many emails and external things pulling for our attention. The huge challenge is to stay focused on the ministry and the things of Jesus.”
Kelly said she prays daily with her husband and the staff at the corps and God has been leading her.
“He’s guiding me to people,” she says. “He’s urged me to call this person or preach about that because it’s needed. He kind of highlights things for me and makes them obvious. That’s one of the things I pray for.
“We can’t do anything without Him. I didn’t know Him before I got saved. I’ve lived a life without Him, and I never want to live that way again. My goal is to do everything with and for Him.”
We the people
Tylar said he also learned at the CFOT to pray and ask God for a vision. The Melfis are in the process of building connections and partnerships in the community as they move forward.
“We didn’t come in here with an agenda,” Tylar said. “We wanted to come in here and learn from the community what they actually want.”
The corps recently held a back–to–school bash and gave out backpacks and school supplies. The Melfis also prayed with people and had them fill out a survey about what they would like to see at the corps.
“We wanted to let people know we’re here, we love them, we care, and we’re here to serve,” Kelly said. “I think it’s just about presence, at least right now. We’re here, even if we’re not doing these big involved programs yet.”
Tylar described North Boroughs as a close–knit and walkable community.
“A lot of people are walking to work, walking to school, and walking to church,” he said. “There are a lot of young people and elderly out walking around. People look out for one another and know each other and are observant of the activities around them.”
Kelly grew up in Pittsburgh’s south hills, which she said is “like a totally different world” from the north hills she now calls home.
“It’s not like where I grew up, where I’m already connected,” she said. “We’re trying to make paths to each person. Pittsburgh is pockety. People kind of stay in their own zone and in their own neighborhood. This is new for us.”
Tylar said he and Kelly are learning about existing services in the community so there are no duplications. Kelly said the focus thus far has been “digging in and really doing life with people.” She has met with people on their porches and even held women’s ministry in the corps parking lot.
While things started slowly, Tylar said the church is drawing 35 people on Sunday mornings.
Walking the talk
“We’ve been talking to the community a lot, walking around, and making friends,” he said. “We’ve even seen some of those people come and visit the church.”
“It’s grown. It’s incredible how fast a church can grow when the pastors are out walking around and are open and available for conversation. We expect to see a lot more growth here pretty soon.”
Tylar said the church is growing despite limited, in-person programs due to COVID-19.
“We have to really tread lightly with the programs that we would usually run and the outreach and gatherings and community events we would do,” he said. “We have to completely reinvent and rethink. All of this change has given us an opportunity to think outside the box a little bit and to come up with new ways of doing things, which we’ve been needing for a while.”
In June, the former officers, Lieutenants Nikita and James Poloso, led a building dedication event that was held virtually online. The building offers a half gym, chapel, state–of–the–art kitchen, and four classrooms.
“This thing is ready to go,” Tylar said. “Just the excitement of being in a new building has been really cool. It’s an incredible opportunity to be new pastors because we get to minister fulltime.
“This is a church plant. We’re creating a new identity for this corps. We’re beginning from the ground up, which is exciting. There are so many new opportunities.”
What God wants
The Melfis, who are both 38, come from a recovery background and have been clean and sober for a decade. Kelly, a former clothing store owner, oversaw a Salvation Army service center in Carnegie, Pa., before going to officer training. Tylar ran his own airbrush shop before answering his call to officership.
Like the firm foundation their church now sits on, Kelly knows success depends on “our relationship and trust in the Lord” and nothing else.
“It’s not about me or my husband and it’s not anything that we’re going to do,” she said. “I mean, we’re going to be faithful, so we are a part of it, but truly and honestly and openly, it’s not about us. It is wholeheartedly about what He wants and is going to do here.”
by Robert Mitchell