by Rev. Néstor Nazario*
It has been a month since I have been in the Mid-Ohio District as District Superintendent. During the month of July, I have had the opportunity to worship on Sundays mornings at several of our congregations, including the privilege of singing in a choir of retired and active ministers, and filling in as a drummer during a contemporary worship service.
I have also had the opportunity to listen, read about, see and/or participate in some of the diverse ways we as a church are expressing God’s love toward the community we are called to serve. I have heard from pastors and chairs of some of the district committees about what we have done in the past, are currently doing, and are planning to do in the future to be an agent of God’s transforming love in the world.
I have learned from Mission-Insite that the population in Mid-Ohio is expected to hold steady, that it is very homogenous racially, that the divide between blue-collar and white-collar occupations is closely split, and that only 17% of the population consider worship attendance to be important. Forty-four percent of the population consider themselves to be spiritual but not religious. That means that they are currently meeting their spiritual needs of relating to God or a Higher Power, to others and to self through other means other than organized religion.
Knowing that Mid-Ohio has a lot of farmland, I thought it would be a good idea to experience firsthand what farmers do. When I found out at Annual Conference, that our District Lay Leader, Don Burdsall, had farmland, owned horses, and would bale hay in the summer, I volunteered to help as a way of getting to know the people of Mid-Ohio.
Sure enough, the call came, the date was set, and out to Cardington, Ohio, I drove to bale hay with Don. Little did I know, that I would be considering that experience to be my initiation to Mid-Ohio after the dust had settled. I must say it was an eye-opening experience in many ways.
It was arduous work. Stacking bales of hay while keeping your balance on a wagon being hauled by a tractor, that is also pulling a hay baler machine, is no easy feat. (It took me a while to get my sea legs back.) After stacking 108 bales of hay at approximately 45 lbs. apiece, I welcomed the respite as we transported the hay to the barn to be stored in the hayloft. Once there, Don set the hay bale elevator to begin the upload. I had to unplug the machine halfway through our load to catch my breath.
Even though I lost my eyeglasses while being consumed by this task, I got a glimpse into all the challenging work farmers do, year in and year out, to make a living. It gave me a new appreciation and understanding of who they are and what they do. It also made me think about how little do we know about the people or groups of people with whom we don’t interact or relate with. We naturally tend to set up barriers between them and us.
If we want to be a vital and growing church in our communities, we need to widen our circles of interaction to include other people. We need to start relating and interacting with the 83% of un-churched people. We need to get to know them and become their friends first, so that they may experience God’s love through us. Who knows? Maybe after that they may explore meeting their spiritual needs through our communities of faith.
It is amazing what hay baling can make you think about. I just hope Don’s horses don’t eat my eyeglasses.
* Rev. Néstor Nazario is the District Superintendent for the Mid-Ohio District of the East Ohio Conference