By Rick Wolcott*
“This is historic,” Tuscarawas District Superintendent the Rev. Benita Rollins said. “In my 36 years in ministry we have not chartered many churches.”
On a rainy summer night, parishioners gathered upstairs at the Perry Grange in Massillon – in the worship space that has been home to the New Way faith community for more than five years – to participate in, first, a constituting church conference, and then its first church charge conference.
East Ohio Conference Director of Congregational Vitality the Rev. Kelly Brown told the crowd, “This came about because faithful disciples got a vision for a new style of worship and gathered people together.
“It grew from a worship to another site to where we are now as a new congregation,” he continued. “We need to celebrate the faithfulness of all who have gone before and the faithfulness of you gathered here tonight as we look toward the future.”
“This is really exciting!” said Keith Brown, the part-time local pastor who has served New Way since 2012. “We keep going back to the scripture in Isaiah that says, ‘do you not see I am doing a new thing in the wasteland, in the wilderness?’”
The community of faith began life as O2, a satellite of Navarre Otterbein UMC that worshipped at T.C. Knapp Elementary School in Canton for five years. This is the sixth year that services and meetings are being held at Perry Grange. With the move came the name change from O2 to New Way.
“Eleven years ago we just knew we needed to get out of the church and meet people where they were – and that’s what we started with,” Pastor Keith Brown said. “The dedication of the people sticks out to me over that time. For five years when we were in the school we had to set up and tear down every week. That takes a huge commitment but it also let us try new things and gave us a chance to reinvent as we went.”
During the constituting conference more than 90 people transferred their membership from Navarre Otterbein UMC to New Way UMC and six more joined the church by profession of faith.
“This is a mother/daughter model,” the Rev. Kelly Brown explained. “A mother church birthed something new and it grows and becomes its own congregation – like Crosspoint UMC also did in the Tuscarawas District. So this chartering is a little different than a vital merger, which becomes a new congregation but charters at the point of merger.”
“To be here tonight and see New Way charter as a new church start is really fantastic,” said the Rev. Phil Raynes, the retired Elder who was pastor of Navarre Otterbein UMC when O2 was launched. “The people who got his church going were always forward looking and willing to take a step out of their comfort zone. The same people started the sports ministry at Otterbein.”
“This is an opportunity for us to do something new and something different and something fresh – and that’s exciting,” said Jennifer Forney. “I am a school teacher and I see lots of hurt in the world. Being here is a place to heal.”
Forney was chosen, along with five others, to comprise the single board of leadership for the church. The six serve as the nominating committee for the church, which, as in all United Methodist churches, is chaired by the pastor. One of the six members of the single board serves as the chair of the board, a different member of the board chairs the Staff Parish Relations Committee, another chairs the Trustees Committee, and another chairs the Finance Committee. Each of the board members serves as members on the committees that they don’t chair.
“The purpose of a single board model is to free people up from committee meetings and get them out doing the mission: making and maturing disciples; developing principled leaders, and studying God’s Word,” said Rollins, who explained that New Way UMC is the fifth church of the 77 in the Tuscarawas District to adopt the single board model.
“I like New Way better than other churches I have been to because we get into the Word and it’s not so formal,” said Logan Talkington, who will be a freshman at Kent Stark State in the fall. “Being part of the youth group has made me want to come to church more. I’m here every Sunday.”
After all of the explanations, nominations, discussions and voting, Rollins said the words that all in the room had come to hear.
“By the authority given to me by Bishop Tracy S. Malone I now declare the New Way United Methodist Church duly organized and chartered. Amen!”
“This has been a longtime coming as they have worked to gain critical mass financially, in terms of people, and ministry wise,” said the Rev. Kelly Brown. “This is the right time for them to take this step and move forward.”
Rollins added, “This is new work that can bring out new people, more diverse people. It’s exciting and I give credit to our bishop and Kelly and the Cabinet for supporting the work that is being done here.”
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.