Once nicknamed “the Car Wash Cathedral” in its formative stages, Living Faith Church in Marmet has grown and evolved into a thriving source of support and community spirit in the town.
Living Faith Pastor Mark Thomas is the son of the founding pastor, Frank Thomas, who retired from the pulpit in April 2012.
Frank started the church in 1985. “I knew God was calling me to preach, I just didn’t know exactly where, whether it was in the denomination I was in at the time or [elsewhere],” the former IBM Business Products employee said. “I was going to preach at a church in Chesapeake on a Sunday night. I was going over the sermon I was going to preach, in my kitchen, and just said, ‘Lord, I need to know what You want me to do.’
“He simply said to me, ‘I want you to start a new work.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve never pastored, Lord,’ and He said, ‘I know that better than you do.’ I was 49 at the time and had a wife and three kids,” Frank said.
“I’d had a vision for a Full Gospel church in this area even before I started pastoring, but I never saw myself as the pastor.”
In September 1985, Frank and some others met at a house to worship, then, a month later, rented a storefront in Marmet — which had an attached car wash.
“A lot of people kidded us and told us we were the Car Wash Cathedral,” he said. “I said, ‘That’s OK. We’ll get them saved and take them out to the car wash and baptize ‘em.’”
Less than a year later, Frank and several of the church members purchased the Ohio Avenue property where Living Faith Church still stands. He said that while banks were reluctant to lend to an Independent church, 16 of those among the then-27-member congregation supported the effort financially and the church was paid for in seven years. (The church’s congregation now numbers between 125 and 150 people weekly.)
Mark, 46, joined the church after pursuing a degree in Accounting at West Virginia University Institute of Technology in Montgomery. After studying at a Bible college in Columbus, Ohio, he joined Living Faith Church as a teacher and principal at the school the church operated for eight years. Constructed in the late 1990s, the former school, behind the church, still serves as an activity building and includes a gymnasium. Children’s church classes are taught there on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings.
Mark “was about to graduate and become a CPA,” his father said. “He came home and said, ‘Dad, I don’t think I want to be a CPA. I don’t want to be locked inside for three months, 24 hours a day. I think I want to go to Bible college.’”
As well as his involvement with the school, Mark served as Living Faith’s Youth Pastor for approximately 10 years, as well as an associate pastor prior to becoming the pastor after his father’s retirement.
“He preached his first sermon for me when he was 17,” said Frank. “He was still in high school.”
“I’d guess I’d felt there’d been some pull toward the ministry at a fairly young age, but I wasn’t sure what that was going to lead to,” said Mark, a Kanawha City resident. “But I felt I should have some type of degree if I wasn’t going to go into ministry. Probably before I even graduated from Tech, I felt I might be somewhere else, as far as what I do for a living. I graduated from Bible college in 1996 and, in 1998, came back here for good.”
At 83 and living next door to the church, Frank still contributes to the church’s activities. “He teaches on Wednesdays sometimes,” his son said. “He’s led some small groups. He’s still active, still on the Board, still considered an elder and a trustee of the church.”
As for assuming his father’s role at the pulpit, Mark said, “The transition has been really easy. We just keep trucking along. After I became pastor, we named another gentleman, Don Kinder, as the associate pastor.”
“During the transition,” Frank added, “I told them, ‘Let Mark be Mark. Don’t try to make him Frank.’ I told the congregation ‘I have no trouble submitting to him on a spiritual basis, but he’ll have to remember I’m still boss in the natural.’”
“That’s right,” his grinning son acknowledged.
Located at 9203 Ohio Ave. in Marmet, Living Faith Church maintains a clothing closet in its basement, open to the public on the second Monday of every month. The church has a back-to-school outreach providing free clothing, food, backpacks and haircuts. It also provides backpacks with food regularly to 55 Marmet and Chesapeake Elementary and East Bank Middle students.
“Most of our other outreaches are community oriented. We have a lot of things out here on the parking lot, from a fall festival to back-to-school celebrations. Our main focus is trying to feed people and clothe people,” Mark said, noting that free dinners are served at the church each Wednesday.
The church also offers bus transportation to its events, and it supports evangelists, missionaries and area agencies such as Union Mission, the Crossroads men’s shelter in Charleston and the Catalyst prison ministry, among others.
“It’s something that’s really hard to believe,” Frank said of Living Faith’s growth and outreach, “to see what started from nothing and what God has really done. When I went to pastoring, He put strong people with me where I was weak. We just worked together and tried to do what the Lord told us to do, and He has blessed immensely. It’s just a blessing to me to see what has happened. I never gave one thought to it not working.”
To contact the church or learn more about its service times and events, visit www.livingfaithchurchwv.com or call 304-949-6711.