Pastor Randy Powell and his wife, Nicole, are natives of Michigan who came to Franklin in 2012 when Randy was asked to be the next pastor of First Baptist Church of Franklin. The Powells had been married for 10 years, both working in public education back home, when Pastor Randy finally found the job they had been praying for in Franklin.
Pastor Randy completed his undergraduate degree from Cornerstone University in Religion in 1998 and had been working as an alternative education teacher since 2001, and at the same time, as the pastor of a small rural American Baptist Church, in Palo MI, since 2007. Even with Randy’s two jobs, and Nicole’s work as an adjunct professor at Lansing Community College, they were still struggling to make ends meet financially, and without health insurance.
Because of the local independence of American Baptist Churches (and Baptist churches in general), Pastor Powell had to find work at a larger church on his own. He began sending résumés to any church he could find through job search sites all over the country. He was interviewed for jobs in Indiana, upstate New York, and attempted to enlist as an Army Reserve chaplain (medical rejection due to past migraine issues) before finding his current position in Franklin. The years of hoping and waiting were difficult for both Randy and Nicole, not knowing when or where the next chapter would begin.
In the end, as 2011 headed toward 2012, the answer came in the form of the First Baptist Church of Franklin. That congregation noticed Pastor Powell in its search in part because of his experience with the AWANA youth program, and also because they were looking for a younger pastor, they called him to lead the church.
Pastor Powell grew up in the small rural West Michigan town of Saranac, so moving to Western Pennsylvania’s rural Venango County wasn’t a big stretch. However, Randy and Nicole didn’t have the best first impression of Franklin – they visited on a cold rainy November weekend, which put a damper on the view of the Belmar Bridge, and several dilapidated houses they drove past before coming to downtown caused them some concern. That weekend Pastor Powell preached in First Baptist’s beautiful historic church building and met warm and friendly people, and they gladly accepted the church’s offer to move here.
“Franklin has exceeded expectations in every category,” Pastor Randy said. “The church itself, the people, and community as a whole, are better than what you can hope for.” Over the past eight years, Pastor Powell has often had cause to thank God when hearing fellow ministers speak of their travails dealing with difficult or obstinate congregants or uncooperative communities.
Pastor Powell’s first interaction with another local minister upon arriving in Franklin was a welcome extended by Pastor Jeff Little, formerly of the First United Methodist Church which shares the intersection of 11th and Liberty with First Baptist. That friendly interaction led to a true friendship with Pastor Little, becoming emblematic of the comradery and cooperative spirit of the Franklin ministerium. Since moving here in 2012, Pastor Powell has greatly appreciated the efforts of the ministerium, including the annual Good Friday Crosswalk, the Central Help Fund, and the Shepherd’s Green Community Food Pantry. In addition, the county-wide willingness of the local government and area churches to work together to tackle difficult issues has helped propel Pastor Powell’s involvement in the creation of Mustard Seed Missions and the Emmaus Haven, as well as serving as the Franklin Ministerium’s representative to the Venango County Christian Ministerium.
In other communities, people are not as willing to get involved as they are here, he said. But in Venango County, people ask “what can we do?” and they all work together. That spirit was essential to the founding of Mustard Seed Missions – people willing to get involved. They were never going to get off the ground with one church, they needed people from multiple churches throughout the county to make it work. “Instead of banging your head against the wall in frustration, you find people who ask, ‘how can I help?’’”
An avid student of history, Pastor Randy has enjoyed delving into First Baptist’s history, hearing tales of the exploits of Charles Miller, and learning more about this region’s significant impact on the world through the Oil Industry. He also loves the ease of access to outdoor recreation opportunities. He spends many early mornings and evenings after work enjoying his runs along the hiking trails; he recently completed his fourth Oil Creek 100 50K race.
The Derrick wrote a story on the Powells in 2015, profiling their rare marriage between a Baptist minister and a devout Roman Catholic. The Powells are now fortunate to belong to not one, but two church families in Franklin, attending Saturday Mass at St. Patrick Church and Sunday Services at First Baptist. Their four-year-old daughter Clara now attends pre-school at St. Patrick School.
The low cost of living in the area has enabled Nicole to stay home with Clara and become involved in the community through both churches, highlighted by her creation of the Fairy Enchanted Evening’s princess ball to benefit the Magic Yarn Project. She also plays Viola in the Butler symphony!
A pleasant surprise for the Powells was the tremendous amount of “bonus” activities for families to enjoy, like Applefest, Light Up Night, and Blues and BBQ Festival. “That’s pretty incredible to have that stuff and have it right here in town,” he said.
“A lot of small towns don’t have any of that. No festivals, no food pantry, no community worship events, as disheartening as some recent things are – population loss, closing of Joy – if you compare this community and the county to others, we’ve got a lot of things going for us that other communities don’t.”
The only drawback for the Powells is the distance they have to travel home to visit family in Michigan, six hours by car to his family, nine hours to that of Nicole, but the benefits of moving here and becoming a part of this community and its network of churches ensure that moving here was absolutely what they had hoped for; they even have family and friends from Michigan who schedule their visits with them in order to experience some of the wonderful things Franklin has to offer.
Pastor Randy publishes a blog at www.pastorpowellsponderings.blogspot.com.