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Unique spirit

Daughter steps into beloved pastor’s shoes

‘Unique spirit’ sought to revive Hamilton Hill church

Saturday, January 26, 2013
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Unique spirit


Arnetta Dix-Howard, center, daughter of longtime community activist Georgetta Dix, during her ordination service at Refreshing Springs Community Church in the Hamilton Hill neighborhood of Schenectady on Saturday, January 26, 2013.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson
Arnetta Dix-Howard, center, daughter of longtime community activist Georgetta Dix, during her ordination service at Refreshing Springs Community Church in the Hamilton Hill neighborhood of Schenectady on Saturday, January 26, 2013.

— Parishioners spent nearly a decade searching for the right pastor for the Refreshing Spring Church of God, but the void left by the death of Georgetta Dix was not easily filled.

They tried a series of three pastors after the 2004 death of the beloved community activist and church founder, but none of them seemed to connect with the Hamilton Hill congregation. There always seemed to be something missing, explained Molain Gilmore, the chairwoman of Refreshing Spring’s board of trustees.

“They just did not fit,” she recalled. “The unique spirit was not there.”

Or at least not where they were initially looking. In truth, the right pastor was in their midst the whole time and had a unique history dating back to when the woman affectionately known as Mother Dix helped found the church in 1955.

Georgetta Dix gave birth to Arnetta Dix-Howard just five months after she and her husband, Eugene, established the house of worship in a Lafayette Street storefront. On Saturday, Dix-Howard was ordained a minister by Francine Edmunds of the United Ordained Council Of International Churches, taking up the mission her mother and father started 58 years ago.

She won’t be the only one from the family taking an active role in the church. Older sister Regina Dix is now serving as a church elder, while younger sister Janice Dix is taking the position of deaconess.

“We’re all coming back to fulfill the vision my parents had,” Dix-Howard said.

Dix-Howard has fond memories of the church from her youth and the central role it played in the inner-city community. Through the church, her mother established an area food pantry and the Refreshing Spring Day Care Center in 1966, which was one of the first of its kind in upstate New York.

“There was always prayer going on in the church, but we were also always looking to meet the needs of the people,” she recalled.

Dix-Howard’s path to the ministry was anything but easy. For years, she struggled with drug addiction. She eventually landed in Arizona at a transitional home called Women in New Recovery, where she learned how to take back control of her life.

In 2000, she returned to Schenectady to care for her mother after she fell ill. Having conquered her addiction, she helped establish Grace House, a transitional facility similar to one that helped her in Arizona.

Dix-Howard, who is married with two adult daughters, would later serve as the church administrator, a position where she could work behind the scenes to help Refreshing Spring.

She did periodically deliver services, including a moving one for Charles Bowman, a 43-year-old father of six shot to death as he reportedly tried to mediate a dispute on Schenectady Street in October.

In her role as pastor, Dix-Howard said she intends to reinvigorate the parish that has dwindled to about 75 active members and restore it to a time when it was a focal point in the community. She said part of that process has already begun — the church has seen a growth over the past few months.

More needs to be done to restore faith among the community. Dix-Howard envisions taking a more visible role in the community, perhaps by restarting the day care her mother established and even creating a transitional home through the church.

“I know it’s in need of help to bring it back to where it was before,” she said.

The congregation is behind her. Gilmore said she and other memberss see a lot of Georgetta Dix resonating through her daughter.

“The spirit of her mom is there.”

There’s also a sense the church that lost direction when Georgetta Dix died has found its bearings. Gilmore said Dix-Howard taking the pulpit gives the parish a new sense of completion.

“There was a piece missing,” she said. “And that piece is no longer missing.”

 
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