The Extravagant Generosity of God

By Rick Wolcott*

Since being assigned to serve as the resident bishop of the East Ohio Conference, Bishop Tracy S. Malone has been intentional about listening to, learning from, and connecting with pastors and churches across the conference.

By spending full-days in all 10 districts, meeting one-on-one with many clergy and lay, participating in conversations with ministry teams and at committee and board meetings, the bishop has seen and heard the joys and the concerns of the conference.

She has observed that our communities are feeling the impact of poverty, crime, and addiction, and that too often our churches have to choose between spending dollars in mission for those in need or spending money to maintain aging buildings.

In the midst of these struggles, there are reasons for hope.  During her visits, Malone has seen and heard countless examples of God’s generosity exhibited in the ministries and the mission work of East Ohio Conference churches and agencies.

The bishop’s most-recent visit was with the leadership and the residents of Copeland Oaks (Mahoning Valley District), one of the health and welfare agencies of the conference.  The vespers service sermon she preached there, “The Extravagant Generosity of God,” centered on the woman at the well, as told in John 4:5-42.

“What I love about this text is that it truly shows us who Jesus is.  It shows us how far reaching, how extravagant is the generosity of God’s love,” she said that evening from the Bennett Chapel pulpit.

Click on the video above to view Bishop Malone’s sermon, “The Extravagant Generosity of God.”

John wrote that Jesus, weary from his travel, stopped to rest in the Samaritan city of Sychar.  That decision shocked the disciples because Jews and Samaritans did not associate with each other in Jesus’ day.

“Our Lord, thanks be to God, on so many occasions in his ministry chooses an odd place to stop to witness to the glory of God’s love, and thanks be to God that he also stops in the odd places of our very lives,” Malone said in her sermon.  “There’s a climactic moment in this text.  Here, while at the crossroads of his own spiritual journey, with a woman, a Samaritan woman of questionable repute, he makes himself known to her.”

For the first time in the Bible, Jesus reveals himself as the Messiah.

“The woman at the well became a woman made well because she was in the right place at the right time and Jesus extended to her the extravagant love and the grace of God.  That’s just who Jesus is, and that’s just who he calls us to be,” Malone preached.

At a time when people are hurting, disillusioned, and angry, the ministries of our East Ohio Conference churches offer hope by proclaiming the good news that all things are possible through Jesus Christ.

That’s a message worth sharing.

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

Jessica Vargo: “From the bottom of my heart … thank you.”

By Rick Wolcott*

Jessica Vargo was East Ohio Conference treasurer for nearly 15 years before she was named chief financial officer for the Kent State University Foundation in December.

“At the time Jessica came into the conference we had some particular financial challenges and she provided decisive financial leadership at that point that helped us to get on solid ground,” said the Rev. David Palmer, chairperson of the conference Council on Finance and Administration.

On Sunday, March 12, friends, family, colleagues, and members of the East Ohio Conference gathered at North Canton Faith UMC to thank Vargo for her service.

“You have given your life in full service to this role.  You have always risen to the occasion and have served faithfully, and served with excellence,” said Bishop Tracy S. Malone.

Since January, Vargo has worked evenings and weekends on a contract basis while the search was conducted for her replacement.

“No one works more diligently than Jessica does,” Palmer said.  “She has brought real integrity and a sincere commitment to the mission of the church, and has enabled us all to work together to be as effective as we can be.”

“Jessica, you’ve left a legacy for us,” the Rev. Dr. Gary George said, “Thank you for being an advocate for the Church and for remembering that we do our best mission and ministry at that level.”

Just before Vargo addressed those in attendance, EOC Benefits Manager Betsy Stewart thanked her for her years of service and presented her with a gift.

“I will always look at March 1, 2002 as the day I relinquished control of my life to God,” Vargo said.  “This tends-to-be-a-control-freak, always-has-a-plan person relinquished control, totally turned her life upside down and said ‘yes’ to the East Ohio Conference 15 years ago.  I believed then, and I still do today, that I was called to be in this place at that time for a purpose.  Over these 15 years, the church has frustrated me at times but I will always view it as a blessing, and one that I will always cherish.  I wish the East Ohio Conference and The United Methodist Church the very best.  To my successor I am leaving a very excellent staff and for that reason I know that she is going to do just fine.  From the bottom of my heart, and with all sincerity, thank you.  May God bless all of the local churches in East Ohio, The United Methodist Church, and all those who tirelessly work to further God’s kingdom.  May you be blessed this day, and in all of the days to follow.  Amen.”

The open house concluded with Bishop Malone asking those gathered to extend their hands toward Vargo as she offered these words of blessing and sending forth.

“Most loving and gracious God you are truly the giver of every good and perfect gift.  For the gift of this your servant leader, Jessica Vargo, for her life, for her ministry, for her witness.  We thank you O God for sending her to be among us as treasurer of the East Ohio Conference some 15 years ago.  And we thank you O God that she faithfully said ‘yes’ to your call upon her life.  We pray for your continued blessings upon her journey as she now answers a new call.  May she always know O God that she is deeply loved and deeply appreciated by the people of the East Ohio Conference and may her journey continue to be blessed.  Be with her Lord.  May your Holy Spirit continue to guide her life and her footsteps every step of the way.  Thank you Lord for Jessica.  Thank you for her faithful service.  In Jesus’ name, let the people of God say ‘Amen.’”

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

Rev. Néstor Nazario Appointed Mid-Ohio District Superintendent

Bishop Tracy S. MalNestor Nazarioone is appointing the Rev. Néstor Nazario to the East Ohio Conference Cabinet.  He will serve as superintendent of the Mid-Ohio District. Nazario is currently in his fourth year as pastor of Hope United Methodist Church (North Coast District), which was birthed out of the merger of Bedford UMC, Maple Heights UMC, and Hathaway UMC.

“Néstor is a capable administrator and brings the experience of serving in a variety of ministry contexts,” said Bishop Malone.  “He has successfully merged congregations and has a deep commitment to social justice ministry.  He brings a deep faith, a love for people, and a passion for the church.”

Nazario’s first East Ohio Conference appointment was to Christ Community United Methodist Church (North Coast District) in 1985.  In 1988, he became a chaplain in the U.S. Navy.  During 20 years in the Navy, he served side-by-side with clergy from different faith traditions providing him with an appreciation and respect for people of other faith groups and religions.  After retiring from the Navy in 2008, he returned to the local church, serving five years as pastor to both Christ UMC and First Hispanic UMC (North Coast District), before his appointment to Hope UMC in Bedford.

“I am honored and humbled to be joining the Cabinet,” Nazario said.  “Becoming a DS was never on my list of things to do, so before taking the leap of faith and accepting Bishop Malone’s invitation I pondered on the internal struggle many of the Old Testament prophets experienced during their initial call.”

Nazario serves on the East Ohio Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, on the Commission on Religion and Race, and on the Church and Society Committee.  He will follow the Rev. Karen Oehl as superintendent of the Mid-Ohio District.

“I look forward to getting to know the clergy of the district and to journeying with them the narrow path Jesus has called us to take of making disciples for the transformation of this world, so that all people can experience the reign and realm of God’s loving grace in their midst, and find abundant life,” Nazario said.

His appointment to the Cabinet and Oehl’s appointment to Gay Street United Methodist Church (Three Rivers District) in Mount Vernon are effective July 1.

Nazario earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Puerto Rico, a Master of Divinity from the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico, and a Masters in Counselor Education from Mississippi State University.

He is the father of two adult children.