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Country Roads, Take Me to Cornerstone

Evalyn Summers

When Shayne Zigich walked into Dr. Cotherman’s office one day late in the Spring semester, he had no idea that he would leave as the PRM summer intern in Fairmont, West Virginia. After all, it was two weeks after the deadline to apply, and he was only hoping to get some more information about PRM for the future. “It’s a strange story,” Shayne recalls, but in the end, “everything just meshed really perfectly.” As Dr. Cotherman explained the need for an intern in Fairmont and that Shayne would be a perfect fit, his heart was touched. He decided to jump in. 

Shayne, who grew up as a pastor’s son in suburban New Jersey, describes rural Appalachia as “something totally different than what I’m used to,” from the winding back mountain roads and occasional deer out the window to the local culture. Even though people could instantly tell that he wasn’t from around there, Shayne says that everything you hear about West Virginians being very welcoming is true. This opportunity to be somewhere unlike his home is part of what drew him to Fairmont in the first place. 

Serving Seven Rural Churches

Shayne Zigich, GCC ‘23
PRM Summer Intern in Fairmont, WV

While in Fairmont, Shayne had the opportunity to work with not just one rural church, but seven small Methodist churches that come together under the name of Cornerstone Ministries. In this cooperation, each of these small churches remains distinct while contributing to a shared vision for ministry in the greater Fairmont area. This vision, an attempt to reconfigure the old circuit rider idea, was cast by Dr. Michael Richards, the senior pastor and licensed counselor who leads Cornerstone Ministries. Pastor Richards and associate pastor Sarita Robinson take turns preaching at services on the two sides of the local “circuit” each week.

In rural Appalachia, as in much of small-town America, some small churches are just getting too small to be self-sustaining. The two biggest congregations in the group number between 40 and 50 people, while some of the smaller ones might get 7 people on a Sunday morning. This cooperation allows churches that are far too small to be self-sustaining to pool resources with other local, like-minded congregations. 

Pastor Michael Richards and Shayne

Cornerstone Ministries is committed to knowing the needs of their community and meeting people where they are, even when that looks a little unconventional. For example, Shayne got to visit what they call “The Biker Church,” a service for motorcycle riders. On Thursday nights, another ministry called Grace Recovery Church meets for dinner, a church service, and small groups. Aimed at reaching those affected by addiction, this ministry “really does a good job engaging the community,” Shayne says. “[It holds] onto people so they don’t just come once and feel like ‘that’s it,’ but it feels like a community they can come back to.”

A New Perspective on Ministry

When asked if he has observed any particular needs of the community surrounding Fairmont, Shayne said his eyes have been opened to the kind of burdens people bear that might not be obvious on the outside. Within his first day in Fairmont, Shayne met a family who had lost two members to addiction. “It brought things a lot closer. You can’t see this stuff. It’s not something that’s got a name tag that says ‘this happened to me.’ It just happens.” These are the kinds of things Shayne says he was aware of, but witnessing it first hand “changes everything.”

Associate Pastor Sarita and her husband Wade lead Grace Recovery Church

New perspective is something that Shayne mentions a lot when asked about his summer. Speaking about the opportunity through PRM, Shayne says that “this has really allowed me to just get that other view that I would just never have had.” From the heartaches of the Fairmont community to a new local culture to just navigating rural ministry in general, his eyes were opened to things he had not considered before. 

Shayne also speaks to his growth through the summer internship - both through exercising skills he already had and in developing new ones. Having recently graduated from Grove City with a B.A. in History, Shayne took the opportunity to lead some small group lectures on topics like contemporary culture and the church, Islam, and early and medieval church history. “It’s been a blessing…I like being able to connect them to the past and help them see something a little differently,” he reflects. 

Shayne’s small groups met at the Cornerstone Ministries Parish House and Ministry Center

He also had the opportunity to grow in his preaching skills. Though he had preached a few times before the internship, Shayne says that the chance to practice preaching to people he didn’t know was really helpful. He also mentioned that preaching to a room of seven people can feel “strange” and somehow “more terrifying” than preaching to a room of 250. Yet, Shayne was encouraged to see “gears moving” in the congregations. People were listening and absorbing the Word when it was given. 

Besides strengthening these skills, Shayne feels that God has caused him to grow in active listening and understanding His love more fully. In particular, he experienced God’s love in working through theological differences in love and coming to truly appreciate people with different perspectives. Brothers and sisters in Christ may disagree on certain aspects, but Shayne is comforted that “we stand in love and faith on the crucial matters that pertain to our salvation in Christ Jesus.” The maturity to do this without defensiveness is a quality that Shayne deeply respects in the example of Pastor Richards and is a lesson that Shayne will carry forward in his Christian life. 

Gifts Given and Received

Janes Memorial, one of the older and smaller churches in the circuit

During his PRM internship, Shayne received spiritual refreshment, but he also blessed others with the same. Pastor Richards describes Shayne as a "wonderful" addition to their ministry this summer. "He has preached and is excellent and has been very involved." He notes that he will be missed by the folks at Cornerstone.

Shayne explained from his experience that small mainline churches are often older congregations. Just having a college student around for the summer offers what Shayne calls “an injection of youth” that is a blessing to churches like the ones in Fairmont. With something like a PRM summer internship, “you’re getting,” in Shayne’s words, “that injection of youth with real intentions of helping their community and using their gifts.” It’s this powerful combination that drives what we do at PRM. 

Reflecting on his summer in Fairmont, West Virginia, Shayne sees the PRM’s vision for cooperation between college, church, and community as “incredibly valuable.” Though at times it felt like he was sojourning through “a strange land,” Shayne listened, learned, and came to truly love the Christian community there. He gained new perspective and grew in his faith journey while serving a church community with his God-given gifts. That day when he visited Dr. Cotherman’s office hours, Shayne had no idea that country roads would lead him to Cornerstone – but he is glad they did. 

Evalyn is a PRM writing intern and rising senior who is studying English and pursuing teaching opportunities in classical Christian education. She lives in and loves rural Western Pennsylvania