New Life in the Dead of Winter

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By Sarah Ferguson*

The following may be alarming to some congregations. Reader discretion is advised. Not for explicit words, sexual innuendoes or violence, but for the modern congregation worshiping God in a very different way.

Project 614, a new service with roots in Church Hill United Methodist Church (Mahoning Valley District) of Youngstown, is sprouting forth in the dead of winter. Led by pastor Jared Woodward, Project 614 held its first Sunday of baptisms on January 26.

Amidst the frigid Northeast Ohio snow, a portable pool was set up and filled indoors. Andy Denen, co-leader of Project 614 and leader of Refuge ministries, introduced the baptismal pool at the beginning of the service.  He enthusiastically helped the congregation practice the rejoicing response it would use when fellow worshipers would rise from the water.

What was scheduled to be eight baptisms quickly became 12!  Black t-shirts and shorts and fresh white towels were provided for those who spontaneously decided to be baptized.

Project 614 offers worshipers a laid-back atmosphere in which to hear lessons from the Bible delivered in a contemporary style.  A coffee bar – complete with two Keurig coffee brewers, fruit, and donut holes – sits amongst congregants, on a large, elevated seating area with tables, during the service. A full band with drum set, guitars, and a lead voice engage the congregants in singing the latest worship songs.

At the baptismal service, Woodward finished a sermon series titled “TKO” – or “Total Knock Out” – a phrase made popular recently by pop singer Justin Timberlake’s song of the same title.  The contemporary wording proves effective in drawing and keeping young adults engaged.

But it’s not just the wording or the music. The spirit of familial love and care are attracting people to Project 614.  Dale Ochwat and Alyssa Sansone share not only a loving relationship, but also their baptisms. Their four-year relationship led them to the moment they both stepped into the pool and baptized each other with Woodard’s help.

Sansone, 22, said she had been baptized as an infant in her childhood Catholic church but wanted to make a ceremonious decision of her own will to be baptized as an adult. Ochwat, 26, said that baptism was the only way to express this decision of faith, showing their church community, “out with the old, and in with the new.”

The couple was introduced to Project 614 when it started as a Bible study. They met Woodward there and came to love how he relates the Word.  They’ve had the pleasure of watching the group grow. “Try 614,” Sansone said. “It could change your life, because it changed ours.”

Sansone’s mother had never been baptized. She says she lost any religion, but decided that now was the time to dedicate her life to Christ.  While things are good right now, she knows that she will need God in the bad times, too. With the help of her daughter and Woodward, she too was baptized.

Many who spoke to the congregation pre-baptism said they were now dying to the old self. Some were happy to be baptized in what they consider their home church even though Project 614 has only been in existence for a year.

The youngest baptized was a six-year old.  She was the first into the water but started crying and asked out.  She was drawn quickly from the pool, but she tried a second time at the end. She endured the icy waters, braved the dip, and with that, closed the inaugural Project 614 baptismal service.

It began with youth. It ended with youth.

*Sarah Ferguson is communications coordinator for the Mahoning Valley District.

9 thoughts on “New Life in the Dead of Winter

  1. I think it’s a shame that people are more focused on the by-laws than rejoicing in the fact that this church is helping and changing lives. As previously mentioned, this woman just reaffirmed her faith and was not rebaptized. Before you judge and ask the bishop to stop this wonderful program, how about asking questions to either confirm or deny your suspicions?
    Unfortunately, this type of quick-to-judge behavior is why we have dying churches. Instead of embracing the new, we talk down about it. Jesus was radical and new and unconventional, and we should strive to be the same.

  2. I have been a member of Churchill United Methodist Church for over 12 years, I raised my family in that church and when Rev. Dave had a vision for a church to reach out to young adults I was thrilled since my children were graduating high school and going onto college. I have watch as most churches attendances have declined over the years, but now I attend the 9 o’clock service at Churchill and 11 o’clock service at 614. My kids and myself have been there since the start and I could not be more proud of what is happening every Sunday morning at that service. I have seen young adults have total transformations after accepting Jesus Christ into their lives. Every Sunday I feel so blessed that my 2 kids are in church with their future spouses, and attend Bible studies. I could not be more proud of Pastor Jared (who is young enough to be my son) as each Sunday he brings the WORD to a crowd of people hungry for the gospel. So for anyone who has never been to one of our services and finds the need to judge I say to you, “Welcome” come and see what we are about. It is a true blessing to be a part of something so exciting. One last thing, I am blessed to have Jared in my life, he has a true love for Christ and every Sunday it is a honor to hear the words that God speaks through him.

  3. Beyond proud of my church and what happened that day! 11 people being baptized and one person reaffirming their faith in Jesus! God really moved in the service that day! What a great day in the life of our church!

  4. Beyond proud of my church and what took place that day. 12 people dedicating their lives to Christ. I honestly don’t know what could be better! So proud to be involved in Project 614 church! This church will change the world!

  5. It’s obvious to see that people would rather take the misunderstood comments of this article and blow them out of proportion then to celebrate the fact a church baptized 12 people. Shame on all of you.

  6. Hello all!

    First off, such an incredible article! Thank you Sarah for taking time to write this!

    It’s come to my attention that this article has some misleading writing and would like to clarify to calm any worries that may arise.

    The young woman who was baptized when she was a child in the Catholic Church was re-affirmed, not ‘re-baptized’. I am fully aware that we, Methodists do not re-baptize. I wanted to clarify that as to not cause any ‘unsettling’ feelings toward this amazing day not just at 614, but in our connection. Praise God!

    I ask that you all celebrate this day with us, it was a day we will never forget! Blessings.

    Pastor Jared Woodward
    Project 614

  7. This is profoundly disturbing. Has no one in the East Ohio Conference read paragraph 341.7 of The United Methodist Book of Discipline?

  8. Please remember our Discipline 341.7 (Unauthorized Conduct)
    “7. No pastor shall re-baptize. The practice of re-baptism does not conform with God’s action in baptism and is not consistent with Wesleyan tradition and the historic teaching of the church. Therefore, the pastor should counsel any person seeking re-baptism to participate in a rite of re-affirmation of baptismal vows.”
    Excerpt From: “The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2012.”
    Also, you may want to review our Church’s teaching on baptism “By Water and the Spirit”

  9. This is an example of some of the most theologically unsound practice I have ever heard of. We United Methodists have a fully-developed theology and practice of baptism. Project 614 turns it into a sham.

    I call upon Bishop Hopkins to take immediate action to put a halt to this practice.

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