Sarah Waterman and Madeleine Stern
True Praise and Deliverance Ministries was founded in 1997 as a spirit-filled, Bible based, non-denominational congregation. Pastor Tondia Vilyus, her husband Don, and a board of seven trustees, established the church. The first meetings were held at what the congregants referred to as the "Convenient Church," in the Oberlin Community Services Center at 129 South Main Street, a building that had formerly housed the Convenient Food Mart. The congregation rented space rented only for Sunday worship.
After three years, it purchased seventeen acres on Route 58, north of Oberlin, with money contributed by the tithes from membership and free will offerings.
Photos courtesy of Tondia Vilyus
Pastor Vilyus played a crucial role in the formation of the church. Raised in Oberlin, Vilyus was a member of Glorious Faith Tabernacle. She became a licensed minister in 1981. Her roots in the Pentecostal Charismatic movement influence True Praise and Deliverance. In 1996, church leadership transition and a family emergency caused Pastor Vilyus to shift her religious focus fro the church to her personal relationship with God and her family. The survival and health of her third child, born prematurely, was a turning point that is directly linked to the core beliefs, and the name of the church. Sincere reconciliation with God, expressed through true praise, is central to the church structure. This, in turn, can provide God's deliverance. These beliefs led to her reconsideration of the structure of the church, and Pastor Vilyus left Glorious Faith Tabernacle to form True Praise and Deliverance.
The non-denominational, intergenerational and multicultural aspects of the church embody the belief that all people are God's people, and all have equal need to express their praise. In this way, the church continues in the tradition of early Oberlin, when First Church served all denominations and all backgrounds. These aspects of True Praise and Deliverance meet some opposition today, as they did in First Church in the 1830s.
Worship at True Praise and Deliverance is lively and full of congregational participation. Drums, bass, keyboard, and singing play a central role in each service. Ms. Teresa Jerome is the church's current Praise Worship Director. She starts services by leading several songs. The use of hand-held instruments and flags reading "Praise God" and "Hallelujah" encourage involvement by congregants of all ages. Also, God's spirit is manifest through speaking in tongues and other forms of exuberant praise. With welcoming, sincere worship, Pastor Vilyus seeks to restore people's faith and relationship to God in everyday life. Several revivals have been held at True Praise and Deliverance Ministries. Consecutive nights of service, often including visiting pastors and ministers, revive the congregation and interest new members.
From an initial membership of roughly twenty-five, the church has grown to an estimated seventy-five members, and it has initiated other ministries. Congregants hail from Oberlin, Elyria, and Lorain, and from many denominational backgrounds. They range in age from babies to seniors. Unlike current trends in most churches, there is a strong presence of teenagers and young families.
||Youth are welcomed in services and in social programs. What Vilyus calls the "Now Generation" is the focal point of True Praise and Deliverance. Sunday School picnics and a summer day camp called "Just Jesus and Me" (abbreviated to J'JAM), which began in Summer 2000, are regular events. The church land provides ideal space with its large lawn and stocked fishing pond. In 2000, an Easter play, "He Lives," was performed by church youth at a local high school. The church held the first of two very successful "Youth Explosions" in 1998. The following year, it attracted over 500 people and was held in New Russia Township Hall. An overwhelming response of the youth led to the formation of Agape. This youth ministry organizes a choir, dance praise team, puppet ministry, boys and girls step teams, and public speaking instruction for youth of all ages and all denominations. It has its own director, board, and 150-200 participants. Another program that has reached out to the broader community was "Praise in the Park." This was a gospel concert held in Tappan Square before the beginning of the regular summer music series. These concerts were held from 1998 to 2001.||
The church seeks to fill the social as well as spiritual needs of the community. Community outreach is a central part of Pastor Vilyus' position and priorities. She hopes to be accessible to the personal and spiritual needs of community members. An outreach ministry visits and sings with residents of Welcome Nursing Home in Oberlin every month. In addition, the church plans to develop programs, such as a food pantry and transitional housing. One vision is to provide housing for entire families that will supplement services provided by local secular organizations that only serve women and children. The church members hope to develop their property, building a new church and other structures to house these programs, thus creating what Pastor Vilyus calls "a city within a city." In this way, the church would be less of a "social club" and more of a resource, complementing existing services within the area.
Recognition for Community Involvement
A significant aspect of True Praise and Deliverance Ministries is that the founder and current pastor, Ms. Vilyus, is a woman. She is the only female primary pastor in Oberlin. Additionally, the origins of the church stemmed from weekly women's prayer meetings. While recognizing the male perspective of the Bible, Pastor Vilyus understands that "there's significance to women in ministry" based on women in the Bible. Further, she asks, "Why would God place women in strategic and significant positions if he didn't intend for them to success and to say, 'Yes I choose women to do my work'?" Her unique position as a woman pastor has met some opposition in the community, but it is clear that this welcoming congregation values all individuals, and their relationships to God, equally.
True Praise and Deliverance Ministries is a dynamic ministry of "love and reconciliation" with both social and religious goals. As Pastor Vilyus explains, "We're not your grandmother's church...we are God's church." The all-encompassing nature of the church aligns with early Oberlin tradition while fostering a forward thinking community.
Many thanks to Pastor Tondia Vilyus, who shared her knowledge of the church with us. In addition, she made available to us flyers and photographs.
Addtional photos of True Praise and Deliverance Ministries taken by Madeleine Stern and Sarah Waterman
Founding Members of True Praise and Deliverance Ministries
and Donald Vilyus
Cynthia and Maurice Simmons
Dorothy and Sam Smith
Gilbert and Yvonne Glass
Geoffrey and Lori Jackson