By Brett Hetherington*
In the fall of 2019, Main Street United Methodist Church (Mid-Ohio District) began opening its doors to serve police officers, paramedics, firefighters and other first responders. The church wanted a way to serve men and women in the Mansfield area who routinely place their lives on the line to serve and protect the community.
“Our vision is to see this as an outreach where first responders can come in and have a place to have a home-cooked meal, relax for a bit and be loved on,” says pastor Jenny Whitmore. “Our first lunch had five fire fighters and five police officers, including the police chief. We always prepare for a lot and if there is a small crowd, we will always have a place to take leftover food.”
The church’s efforts to show love are not lost on the public servants to whom its doors have been opened. Safety and Security Director Lori Cope says, “It is so nice to have this place to rest when the rest of your day is surrounded with the other side of what exists out there.”
Assistant Chief Joseph Petrycki has also been touched by the church’s efforts.
“This means a lot. Doing this job for 24 years it’s a calling for the people as much like it is a calling for pastors. Most law enforcement officers recognize it is a calling and are used to not getting thanked. Thankless Job. When people like Pastor Jenny and churches in Mansfield open their doors, it says a lot about society,” he said. “Like I said, being a police officer for 24 years you’ve seen the worst of the worst and you constantly have to remind yourself that that’s not everyone’s reality. There are good people out there, there are good organizations. It’s heartwarming to see that and to feel that as well.”
First responders who attend the free meal aren’t bombarded with information about the church, instead they are invited to take a prayer square home with them. The small handmade craft serves to remind the holder that someone is praying for them today.
“The ladies in our church made these squares, and they were prayed over just this morning,” Whitmore said.
It turns out that the love and support the church shows for first responders is a two-way street. Recently, the police chief approached Whitmore about serving as an official chaplain to the police department. Because the invitation grew out of the first responder ministry, Whitmore’s February 7 swearing-in ceremony was held at the church during an outreach meal.
During the ceremony, Whitmore was able to share her heart as she opens this new chapter in her new ministry in Mansfield.
“Our focus is to love God through loving our neighbors. Our focus for our church this year is taking care of our community caretakers, the men and women who get out there and serve our community day in and day out. The things you take home, the things you still see when you close your eyes at night. We are in prayer for you. We pray for your safety, we pray for your families, we pray for all of our community caretakers. We are honored as a church to be able to minister to you in this way,” she shared.
The crowd was a smaller one, which allowed for a lot of personal interaction between Whitmore and both her current ministry with church members, as well as her new mission field with several police officers in attendance. As a group, they are just as excited to welcome Whitmore on board as she is to be a part of the team.
Mid-Ohio District Superintendent the Rev. Nestor Nazario was in attendance and shared his thoughts on how this outreach meal, and this opportunity to serve as a chaplain allows Whitmore – and the church as a whole – to carry out the work of Christ.
“Pastors are appointed to service in a community. Being able to be chaplain to first responders in Mansfield is a great example of the church reaching out to new people and a way for the church to appreciate other people that are doing good for the community. We are all in this together, building a better community for us and everyone. We are working together to make the Kingdom of God a reality in this world,” he said.
If you have a story of how God is using your local church to transform the community, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. The East Ohio Conference Communications team wants to tell your story.
*Brett Hetherington is the Communications specialist for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.