Mission Focused Smithville UMC – they just never stop doing for others.

The Heart of a Small Church – Part 1

By Sue Zakovec*

During the summer months, whether large, small, rural or urban … churches seem to take on a new life, full of enthusiasm and energy. As members throw open their doors with a renewed commitment to community and mission, ice cream socials, carnivals, fairs, Vacation Bible Schools and music concerts come alive!

Car shows, and car enthusiasts can be found everywhere in rural small towns, such as in Waynesburg (Centenary UMC), in Polk (Red Haw UMC), just to name a few.

In the village of Smithville which is in the heart of Wayne County, Smithville UMC (Canal District) has named and hosted their car show, “Cruisin’ in the ‘Ville”.

Guys discussing cars among the cars

Its founders, Linda Ferber, a former missions committee chairperson and her husband, Bill, a car enthusiast combined their passions of restored vehicles and raising mission funding into a popular community event.

“What I really like about the car show is that not only is it a fund raiser to support our other mission work,  but it is outreach in and of itself. The car show provides an opportunity to introduce Jesus and our church to a whole range of people that we may otherwise never encounter. Best of all, we get to meet them on their own turf, where they are comfortable.”

“I have heard a number of friends echoing my feelings on being a Mission focused Church. I feel that spreading the Word of God is one of the most important parts of being a Christian. Whether we actively seek opportunities like the car show or just let it shine through our daily lives, we are called to share God’s love,” current missions chairperson, Michael Thompson said.

(Click on any photo to enlarge and view full gallery)

This year’s “Cruisin’ in the ‘Ville” missions recipients were OhioGuidestone, Akron’s Open M, Wooster’s People-to-People Ministry and Green Local Breakaway Program.

Grounded with Historic Roots

Smithville UMC’s commitment to community and mission was founded in its heritage. The church had its beginnings long before the village was laid out in 1836.  In October of 1812 when sixteen people met in the cabin of Michael Thomas, Reverend Gray, a circuit rider was passing through the area and saw the group and exclaimed, “I believe I have found my flock in the desert!”

Two years later, the first religious group in Green Township was organized as a congregation of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Today, the village of Smithville, with a steady population of approximately 1250 and its nine different denominational churches within its 1.25 square mile area, is a very close-knit community that places high importance on Christian faith and historical roots. There is a lot of trust in this small community. With generations of people growing up together, forming close relationship, it is like the old television show, Cheers – a town where everyone knows your name.

Seems idyllic, but there are challenges for Smithville UMC and other small community churches with deep roots. New and inventive ministries are hard to sell since people like familiar and comfortable ways. Limited financial resources are always a challenge when doing big projects. Attracting new people to the church is even harder. Being a small community … not many people move out, thus not many move in. In turn, the average age of membership is older with few young people.

With these challenges, members of Smithville UMC focus on their strength – their mission, rather than the numbers.

“If we aren’t mission-focused, we’re just in it for ourselves, creating a ‘feel good’ atmosphere on Sunday mornings.  But mission-focused means having a goal beyond ourselves and the operation of our own facility to help people in our community and around the world.  It means following the example of Jesus and offering a helping hand,” said member and organist, Jerri Lynn Baxstrom.

1 Peter 4:8-11 says (Message Bible), “Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything.  Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless – cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it:  if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything.”

“We’ve been loving and serving each other in this facility since the 1950’s and much longer in a couple other facilities before that.  Many of our members are older but are active senior adults who minister to each other in a variety of different ways.  Our younger members are a smaller percentage of our Church Family but wear many hats when serving within the body,” said Cheryl Hadsell, administrative assistant for Smithville UMC.

Smithville’s dedication to serving the community is well known and members are not afraid to get in and get their hands dirty while loving and caring for others. Their enthusiasm and energy does not just crest in summer, it is an ongoing commitment to their mission year-round.

Lay Leader, Bernie Caldwell explained it this way, “I feel that our mission is to reach out into the community and find some commonality within ourselves. Today the country and world are so divided that any way we can come together and find a common ground is a great way to provide in a mission church.”

Serving Others

To Smithville UMC members, serving others means baking monthly birthday cakes for the residents (kids under 18 years) of Boys Village and baking cookies for Breakaway, a religious education program in the Green Local Schools.

It means serving the community’s young people and their families, by offering summer outdoor movie nights, Trunk or Treat, 5th Quarters and tailgate parties (after Smithville’s football games), community Red Cross blood drives, monthly Messy Church events and a combined Vacation Bible School with the Brethren Church.

By serving others, it means giving gifts of appreciation and encouragement to those in the community that serve as firemen, police officers, school teachers and staff.

And by serving others, Smithville UMC is raising community awareness of a growing drug, alcohol and dangerous behavior epidemic by hosting a program, this past spring, called “Hidden in Plain Sight”. 

Sharing their Facilities

During the week, Smithville UMC partners to house a community school (Liberty Prep Academy). This school gives a second chance for both junior high and senior high students, who struggle in a traditional school setting, to get their High School diploma. Each year the community school serves 60-90 students from all over Wayne County.

Smithville UMC also provides a home for a Saturday School called Wayne County Juvenile Justice Center for students who have found themselves in trouble with the law.

It makes available to the community its Family Life Center for elementary, junior high and high school basketball and volleyball practices, as well as, a men’s basketball group and a 4-H Club.


Mission becomes more visible to the community and the community is more visible to the church during the summer months, but community out-reach and support are ongoing for Smithville UMC. Members know who they are and what they are.

“We are a mission focused church because God calls us to be outside focused when sharing what we have in Jesus and our relationship with God, our father and Christ, our brother. Who is our brother? Our community is our brother and God commands us to go forth and love,” Caldwell said.

*Sue Zakovec, East Ohio Conference Communications Office
Many thanks to Cheryl Hadsell, administrative assistant for Smithville UMC for her detailed contributions to this article.


Whether in a quaint, rural setting or in a bustling, ever-changing urban area, every church has a unique story to tell. Each works with its own story-line and parameters with its blessings and challenges.

East Ohio Conference is seeking to find more defining stories among our churches. What is your story? Contact us @ sue@eocumc.com.

Stay tuned for The Heart of a Small Church Part 2 – Fitchville UMC  A Holy Spirit Summer, coming the week of August 20.


Embracing Diversity to Reach New People for Christ

By Rick Wolcott*

Jai mashi is a Nepali phrase that means “victory in Christ.

On Sunday, February 4, the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese Christian congregation of Refugee International Fellowship and the congregation of Grandview United Methodist Church (Canal District) celebrated their victory in Christ together during a joint worship service.

Worshippers in the Sanctuary

Pastor Santa Gajmere and the Refugee International Fellowship congregation began worshipping in the Grandview UMC sanctuary in 2016 thanks to the connection of The United Methodist Church.

“We used to worship at Grace United Methodist Church in Newport News, Virginia but it was expensive living there.  When we were looking to move, Pastor Hank (Teague) sent a letter to the United Methodist churches in Akron and Pastor Paula (Koch) was the first to answer,” he said.

“When I received the email, it was at a time when the congregation was looking for a way to reach our community.  I realized this was a way to be present for others,” Koch said from her current church, Millersburg UMC, where she was appointed in 2017.

“One of my favorite memories was the first World Wide Communion Sunday after the ministry began using Grandview’s facility. I preached and Pastor Santa translated my message. It was a great opportunity to share the Sacrament together and worship together. It truly brought home to us that we are the Body of Christ no matter what language we speak or what country we call home.

Canal District Superintendent the Rev. Ed Petersen says that North Akron is quickly becoming a large international community.

“Akron North High School reports 26 distinct cultures and 13 languages represented in the school, and Akron now has the largest population of Bhutanese/Nepali people outside of Nepal.”

“Surveys show us that there are 18,000 Nepali-speaking Bhutanese in Akron and the surrounding communities, but less than 1,000 of them are in Christ,” said Gajmere.  “So we are continuously praying for the other more than 17,000 and we need the help of the churches in the area to reach out and introduce them to Christ.”

He explained that the large Bhutanese population, coupled with better employment opportunities and a lower cost of living were reasons the 12 families of the Refugee International Fellowship moved from Virginia to Akron two years ago.  Since arriving in its new home, the congregation has grown to 100 worshippers, comprised of 19 families.

Roseann Andrus, a member of Grandview UMC, says, “I’m really excited to have Pastor Santa and his congregation here.  I really am.  They are trying so hard to assimilate and the more we can help them the better off everybody is.”

“I have found the people here to be very friendly and they all have a heart to help,” Gajmere said.  “There are so many seen, and unseen, people in this church who are helping us, and making us feel at home here.”

When the Rev. David Hull-Frye was appointed to Grandview UMC in July 2017, succeeding Koch, he was glad to learn that his new congregation had welcomed their Bhutanese brothers and sisters in Christ.

“In 2001, I worked with a refugee population from Sudan, with the Lost Boys, so I had experience with that, and I’ve always enjoyed working with different cultures.  It was exciting to come here and be part of this,” he said.

“Here in this community we don’t expect it to be racially diverse, but it is.  That’s the dynamic of who we are now.  So for this congregation to embrace that is encouraging to me and I think it’s living out our Gospel message.”

The two pastors meet once a month to brainstorm ideas to bring the congregations together, since Grandview UMC worships in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings and Refugee International Fellowship worships there in the afternoon.

“We decided that once a quarter we are going to come together in worship, share our cultures and emphasize the similarities in our faith.  We’re all worshipping the same God, though it might be in different languages,” Hull-Frye said.

Voices of both languages sang together as one during the February 4 service.  The Refugee International Fellowship choir led the singing of Mahan Iswor Bicharchhu Kaam Tapaiko in Nepali, while the Grandview UMC choir led the singing of How Great Thou Art in English.

Other ideas borne from the pastors’ brainstorming sessions will come to fruition this spring.  A new church pictorial directory will be published that features photos of both congregations in the same book; and Gajmere will begin writing a section of the Grandview UMC Sunday bulletin in which he will offer Nepali words and phrases, along with their English translations, to facilitate breaking down the language barrier between the two congregations.

“Grandview’s commitment to build a relationship with ALL people in their community has led to this amazing partnership between worshipping communities.  Rev Hull-Frye’s leadership is moving towards East Ohio’s vision in reaching new people,” said Will Jones, the East Ohio Conference director of Multicultural Vitality.He, Hull-Frye, Peterson, and EOC Director of Congregational Vitality the Rev. Kelly Brown continue to be in conversation with Gajmere to discern ways to join in ministry with the Bhutanese Christian community, and also be in ministry to them and the larger Bhutanese refugee community.

“We equate it to a new marriage, where you have to take time to get to know each other, and understand each other’s needs.  We each have a culture we have to learn, and all sides bring something to this,” Hull-Frye said.  “It’s a joy to work with both congregations and see the dynamic of how that comes together.  Its not always easy to welcome those that we perceive to be different, but deep down we’re all the same and we all want to experience God’s love.”

*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Heart 4 The City Designated as a Mission Church

By Rick Wolcott*

Welcome to Heart 4 The City sign

“This church means a lot to the community because a lot of people need help.  It’s a blessing to have the church here,” said Geraldine Williams about Heart 4 The City United Methodist Mission Church (Canal District).

What began on February 22, 2010 as an outreach center for the Goodyear Heights community, sprouted from Northampton United Methodist Church (Canal District), is now a stand-alone congregation of the East Ohio Conference.

“Heart for The City has been designated as a mission church,” said Bishop Tracy S. Malone.  “It is an intentionally diverse and multi-generational faith community that is reaching a mission field that is underserved and has limited resources. This community ministry is extending the love and invitation of Christ through its worship and strategic offering of programs and services that are meeting tangible needs.”

Heart 4 The City Consecration Service
Heart 4 The City Consecration Service

Williams was one of 109 people who attended the consecration service for the church on Sunday, July 16.  So was Kenneth Hayes.

“We’ve been coming to the pantry but this is the first time our family has come here for a service.  We have six little kids and we came because the people are good-hearted people, Christian people,” he said.

Pastor Brett Bartel Preaching
Pastor Brett Bartel Preaching

“For us to be recognized and affirmed as a United Methodist Church with a set pastor means the world,” said Pastor Brett Bartels, who has been appointed to the church.  “It means we now are accountable for our influence and our impact in this community around us.

Pastor Brett Bartel's Children's Message
Pastor Brett Bartel’s Children’s Message

“We’re called to this community and we have to plan accordingly so that we can be united with this community in mission and in ministry so that we might share God’s love and invite people to know Jesus personally,” he continued.  “There is no greater joy in this world than being part of what God is wanting to do here and now.”

Bill Ellis said the church is a special place to many.  “When you come through the doors of this church, you feel different.  I know I feel closer to God when I am here,” the church’s head usher said.

One of many ministries of Heart 4 The City is Community Day, held the third Saturday of every month.  On that day, residents can get a free lunch, buy household items and clothing for a minimal charge at the community store, visit the food pantry, and get a haircut.

Heart 4 The City Prayer Wall
Heart 4 The City Prayer Wall

“What excites me about this church is that you interact with the community,” said Dan Kearns.  “This is not about white middle class coming together.  This is about people of all different cultures and races coming together with needs, not just physical, but for God.”

Everyone at the church knows Kearns as the man who makes the popcorn.  Some grab a small bowl of the tasty kernels on their way into the sanctuary so they can munch on them during the service.  Others wait to enjoy their treat until the time of fellowship right before the sermon.  Bartels instructs parishioners to use those five to seven minutes to introduce themselves to, and visit with, others – all while enjoying popcorn, donuts, coffee or tea.

“One of the things that tugs at my heart about this church is that in a small group of people you have this eclectic group of folks.  Some are homeless and some are corporate lawyers, yet in that small mix of folks people know each other by name, they care about each other, they ask about each other, they’re willing to do for one another.  It’s a beautiful picture, a small picture of heaven,” Bartels said.

Kileigh Su Leads Worship at Heart 4 The City
Kileigh Su Leads Worship at Heart 4 The City

“This church is super authentic.  We don’t have a matched set of what we do every Sunday, we just go with the flow,” said Worship Leader Kileigh Su.  “We are here to meet people’s needs. It’s awesome!  As a family we love it.”

Community Day is just one way that the church touches the lives of the community.  It also hosts archery, biking and fishing clubs in the summer, as well as Wednesday Club that provides Bible study, gardening, crafts, games and field trips for older elementary-age children.

Heart 4 The city Good Soil Garden
Heart 4 The city Good Soil Garden

The church and community also work together in the Good Soil Garden, which last year had 40 crops that produced 2,100 pounds of vegetables.  Some were distributed through Heart 4 The City and the rest were donated to a neighboring community program.

“My conviction is that every church ought to be like this.  Every church ought to look like it’s neighborhood, and reflect what’s going on in its neighborhood, otherwise we’re the church on the hill that’s irrelevant that no one knows about, that’s too inward-focused,” Bartels said.

“So we try to be tied to the community, whatever that looks like, whatever that sounds like, whatever is going on, we want to reflect that in a positive way that draws people to Christ so that we can make disciples,” he said.

“Heart is very unique in that it is a United Methodist community center that also has a worshipping community.  I am excited about the potential for ministry opportunities that the new designation for Heart 4 The City will offer,” said the Rev. Ed Peterson, Canal District superintendent.

“We want to finish what we start,” Prayer Leader Alisa Stinson told the congregation during the consecration service.  “We want to be a presence in this community, at this address, that says ‘the Lord is here please come, no matter your baggage no matter  your lack of baggage, whatever you have whatever you don’t have, please come.’”

*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.