Walking into Blandburg United Methodist Church, it’s immediately apparent that a remarkable transformation is unfolding within the walls of this century-old building. What started as a modest vision to serve an oft neglected community has evolved into an inspiring tale of resilience, faith, and radical change. This is the story of the Patchwork Praise ministry, a place where the power of inclusivity is on full display.
The dream for an inclusive ministry that catered to people with special needs began nearly a decade ago when Luke Hullihen, the son of pastor Jaynee Hullihen and her husband Zane, began attending a special needs ministry out of Emmanuel Church in Johnstown. Recognizing the need for a similar ministry closer to home, in 2019 the Hullihen family formally began developing plans to create a once-a-month special needs service in Blandburg, a small town in Pennsylvania located on the outer edge of the Western PA Conference. Unbeknownst to them, they had embarked on a journey that would redefine their community and congregation.
Once plans were set in motion, April 2020 was slated for the debut of this service. Flyers were printed, meetings were attended to promote the event, and everything seemed ready - until the global pandemic brought all their plans to a screeching halt. With safety as a priority, the ability to launch didn’t come until late 2021. By this time, the congregation had entered into a period of uncertainty as the members were grappling with the question of disaffiliation from the United Methodist Church.
At that time, the church had approximately 20-25 members with only a handful attending regularly. “Our family made up about half of those, though only about seven attended on a regular basis,” explained Heath Hullihen, another son of Jaynee and Zane. Heath attends the church with his family and is responsible for the audio/visual and IT needs. “We decided to vote not to disaffiliate based much on the principles that made us want to start such a ministry in the first place.”