Rev. Larry Albanese
Rev. Larry Albanese came to Erie on May 1, 1975. Six weeks later he would be joined by his wife Elizabeth and 2 daughters, who had remained in Philadelphia until the conclusion of the school year. Pastor Albanese’s years as Pastor in Erie started off in a very interesting way. A huge project, one that he had not started, was underway. He would step into a complex situation, he would pick up the pieces where another had left off, and he would diligently seek the Lord for His heart in this building project. Pastor Albanese would have the unique task of finishing a dream started years before he came. At the same time that the building project was going on, Pastor Albanese was approached by Rev. Dale Williams, who had a burden to begin a new work in the city on the East side of town. With the Lord’s leading, another Assembly of God Church located on Saltsman Road began. Currently Rev. Cliff Hamilton is pastoring this church.
During the next two years, (1975-1977) the church would continue to build upon the foundation that previous pastors had prepared. Under Pastor Albanese there was an increase and emphasis on missionary giving while the church edifice was being completed. Even in the midst of debt and great financial stress, the church body agreed to increase their giving to world and home missions from 5% to 10%. Shortly thereafter they would increase by another 5% bringing their missions giving up to 15%! What was once thought to be utterly impossible became a reality as the people were encouraged to step out in faith. This period of time was marked with one miracle after another. Every detail, from windows, to electrical work, to the exterior stone work, to the carpet installation, to the final work on the altar and the heating and air conditioning, had the “Footprints of God” all over them. Finally, on June 5, 1977 at 2:30 in the afternoon, the new addition would be dedicated with many people from all walks of life attending, giving God the glory for what He had done.
“Tell the skeptic and atheist there is a God, and if they don’t believe, send them to First Assembly of God Church in Erie, Pennsylvania and they shall see for themselves.” -Pastor Larry Albanese
Little known fact:
Women's Ministries began as a grassroots movement. Etta Calhoun, a prominent temperance leader in Texas, organized the first Women's Missionary Council at Morwood Mission in 1925. Twenty-seven districts independently formed a WMC department before the General Council authorized a national office in 1951.
As the church celebrated their 50th anniversary on June 18th, 1983 these prophetic words of Haggai were declared... “The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,’ says the LORD of hosts. ‘And in this place I will give peace, says the LORD of hosts.’” Haggai 2:9
What an incredible and prophetic word to be spoken! As the church on 32nd and Liberty was literally “exploding with growth,” the need for a larger facility was imperative. A building committee was established, and the initial steps were taken. Once the property at 8150 Oliver Road was purchased and plans were drawn, construction was underway. And then, on June 21, 1987 the dedication service of 8150 Oliver Road took place. The following words would conclude this momentous service “...we present this building and those who worship here unto our God. It is rightfully His and for His glory may it ever be used. May the shekinah glory be upon this house as it first was seen upon the Tabernacle of the Wilderness; and may the cause of Christ be advanced by special enduement of the Holy Spirit as it was after the Day of Pentecost.”
Pastor Albanese remained in Erie until August of 1989 at which time he moved from Erie to later minister in Warren, Ohio. He would say that the theme of his ministry during his time here in Erie was...“To know Him in the Spirit, and to make Him known by the Spirit.”
Today, we are blessed to have Pastor Albanese and his wife back in Erie where they continue to use their gifts to bless our community and the Erie First congregation.
Rev. Jeffrey Brawner
“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Col. 3:17
In August of 1989, Pastor Jeffrey Brawner arrived in Erie with his wife Jewel. Their son Jordan was four years old at the time, and Jacqueline was just four months. Prior to their move to Erie, they had pastored New Life Assembly in Lancaster, Pa. Pastor Brawner commented that he felt privileged to follow a great pastor, namely Larry Albanese,... “and to serve with some great leaders, especially the legendary Vernon Godfrey and Frank Pistone.” He also mentioned that the church family had demonstrated incredible warmth and a welcoming spirit to his young family.
Some of the highlights of Pastor Brawner’s ministry in Erie would include:
• Having the opportunity to minister with a great team of pastors, ministry directors, and board members.
• Seeing the Christmas and Easter musicals grow into an all-church effort reaching thousands.
• Adding educational and office space to the facility.
• Seeing the Christian Academy begin.
• Launching the Family Worship Center
• Participating with the vision for a sports facility to reach and minister to the families and youth of the region.
• Embarking on missions trips to Africa, South America and Mexico.
• Seeing new ministries established and existing ministries expand.
• Starting the “Fully Alive” weekly television program, and hosting 4 primetime television specials.
The “Fully Alive” program was the result of seeds sown and prophetic words spoken way back in 1949. It was then that a man named Edward O. Lamb would take a huge risk. A risk to construct the first building in the nation for the specific purpose of broadcasting television. According to a 50th anniversary story in the Erie Times-News in 1999: “The dawn of Erie television came at nightfall on March 15, 1949. At 6:30 p.m. the bishop of the Erie Catholic Diocese, the publisher of the Erie Dispatch and the founder of the Boston Store faced the lone camera and wished the pioneer television station success.”
Little known fact:
Perhaps the first A/G missionary to be martyred was Elmer Hammond, who was murdered by bandits in South China in 1916. Bandits in South China also murdered Paul Bettex later that same year. In 1932, W.E. Simpson, son of early missionary leader W.W. Simpson, was killed on the field.
The station was WICU, channel 12. Bishop John Mark Gannon prayed that the new station would be used “for the high purposes of disseminating truth, beauty and goodness.”
“For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’” John 4:37
Pastor Jeff Brawner remained in Erie until 1995 at which time he took a position as National Director of Media Ministry with the General Council of the Assemblies of God in Springfield, MO. Later he would move to California to pastor an Assembly of God church and remains there today.
“All of the great ministry endeavors during our time in Erie were truly a team effort. While First Assembly has been blessed with dedicated and hard-working pastors, it’s the dedication and selfless serving of its people that has given it a great ministry past and will give it a great ministry future. May God continue to bless you...and make you a blessing!” -Jeff Brawner
Rev. Jack Risner
“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and Prophets hand on these two commandments.’” Matthew 22:37-40
When Pastor Jack Risner arrived in Erie in March of 1995, he was accompanied by his wife, Pam, daughter Christy, and sons Chad and Dustin. Prior to moving to Erie, he had ministered in Gresham, Oregon. It wasn’t long before this young family settled in to new schools, activities and friendships and brought a fresh dynamic to the congregation of Erie First. This was a young family, and one who embraced us with great warmth and enthusiasm.
Pastor Jack’s early years would continue to build upon infrastructure established by previous pastors, Brawner and Albanese. The “Fully Alive” television program was going strong, as were the Christmas and Easter musicals which reached thousands with the message of Christ. Many people in the congregation were actively involved in small groups which helped to give a greater sense of connecting as well as opportunity to develop deeper relationships within the body. Later, under Pastor Jack’s direction, these groups would be known as Acts 2:42 gatherings and great emphasis would be placed on caring for one another in home settings. Small groups continue to be a focus for us at Erie First Assembly where fellowship, Bible teaching and prayer take place.
Jack Risner has been known as a pastor who encourages his congregation to “reach out to the poor, the lost, and the disenfranchised” in practical ways. Under his leadership, the entire pastoral staff has captured this attitude of “Impacting the City” by finding unique ways to affect the community for Christ.
Little known fact:
Three grandsons of William and Catherine Booth, founders of the Salvation Army, became members of the Assemblies of God.
One specific place of impact is Sparrow Fellowship in Waterford where Scott and Stephanie Crowell are pastoring a church in a unique setting. A campground is home to a group of people who are comfortable worshipping in a more casual setting. The interactive teaching and preaching is what distinguishes Sparrow Fellowship from Erie First, but the passion for experiencing the love of Jesus is the same.
“Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself...” Psalm 84:3
The desire and responsibility to impact our region is shared by young and old alike. Jesus said in Mark 10:14, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” The new children’s play area engages children not only from our own church body, but from all around our community. The youth of our region will soon be spending time at the Summit; a place to gather, fellowship, learn, and worship. Our prayer is that the Summit will be a magnetic location for young people, where they will meet Jesus and be revolutionized by their encounter.
From prison services to college ministry, from sporting events to caring for the homeless, from intercessory prayer gatherings to support for our refugees, our desire is to see the lives of individuals and families transformed and empowered by Jesus Christ.
Pastor Jack has given a unifying call to the body of believers in our community. As people from different “church homes” are now coming together to pray for each other and for our community needs and leaders, the words of Paul in his letter to the Romans are being fulfilled... “So we being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” Romans 12:4
“It’s about seeing the possibilities others may not see. It’s about trusting God and watching Him do the impossible in your life and the lives of others. It’s about Impacting the City!” -Jack Risner
My son, do not forget my teaching...
It is important that we know from where we have come. In the book of Acts, just before he was stoned to death, Stephen gave an incredible discourse, a descriptive monologue of Jewish history...reminding his persecutors of their roots all the way back to Abraham.
Peter also reminded believers continually to hold fast to the Truths they had been taught... “For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth. Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you.” II Peter 1:12,13,15
Clearly, the Lord is asking us to not forget. He is asking us to constantly remind each other of our history. The reason? Because our history is His Story...the story of a God who is so passionately in love with His children that He’ll pursue them relentlessly and tirelessly throughout the generations. He’s the God who showed up in Topeka, Kansas, the God who showed up on Azusa Street, in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Let us not be a people to forget. With humble and grateful hearts we must thank the LORD for those who heard the call and responded...for those who chose the approval of God over the approval of men...and for those who fixed their eyes not on what was temporal, but what was eternal.
And as we do this, we can encourage each other with Paul’s words to the Hebrews...
“For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” Hebrews 6:10
May we be a people who echo our founders as they boldly stated in 1914... “We commit ourselves and the Movement to Him for the greatest evangelism the world has ever seen. We pledge our hearty cooperation, prayers and help to this end.”
We are a people marked by unashamed and extravagant love for Jesus. “We love because He first loved us.” I John 4:19 And it is this compelling love that drives us. It’s the same love that drove our founding fathers...it’s a desperate love...a love that wants to be sure that every ear has heard the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We hold firmly and take seriously the final words of Christ spoken before He ascended to the Father...words He intended for us not to forget. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature ...” Mark 16:15
Our founding Fathers heard the cry. They were compelled by the “lostness of humanity” and they moved. They moved with prayer, they moved with fasting, they moved with conviction, and they moved with sacrifice. These principles set forth in the early years remain as bedrock for our future. May we follow in their footsteps.
Let us from this point on, and with the same fervency of those who went before us, advance the gospel of our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ...until He comes!