Grandparent Ministry Offers Support to those in Need

By Rick Wolcott*

For 100 years Ontario UMC (Mid-Ohio District) has been active in school ministry.  To celebrate the milestone, church leadership invited all 215 employees of Ontario Local Schools to an in-service day luncheon last August.

In meeting with the district superintendent to plan for that lunch, the Rev. Peg Welch inquired how the church could best help the school if it received grant money it had applied for from the East Ohio Conference.

“She said that one of the biggest problems they had was the number of grandparents raising kids because the parents of the kids – their own children – are out of the picture, mostly because of the opioid crisis,” Welch said.  “We have three in our own church who are raising their grandchildren so I was aware of the need.  But I did not know that there are an estimated 4.2 million children across the United States being raised by kin.  It’s an enormous problem.”

Welch says that school districts don’t always know exactly how many children are being raised by grandparents because none of the school forms ask the caregivers filling them out what their relation is to the child.

“Estimates in the Ontario Local Schools is that as few as two and as many as four out of 10 students are being raised by kin – 20 to 40%,” she said.

“The word needs to get out.  We don’t believe that people know what is going on,” said one grandparent who is now raising his grandchild.

He and other adults who find themselves in the unexpected role of parenting grandchildren and kin meet at Ontario UMC monthly during the school year.  On this night, 10 adults and 12 children, between four and 13 years of age, attended Grandparent Night at the church.

“There’s nothing out there to model so we tried a couple of different ways that didn’t work before we finally hit on a successful formula,” Welch said.  “We meet in the evening because some of the grandparents are still working, and we provide a meal and child care, so the grandparents can be here in the first place.”

“Ontario United Methodist Church and the Ontario Schools work collaboratively, year-round, to provide quality services to children and families,” said School District Superintendent Lisa Carmichael.  “We’re truly blessed to have this unique partnership.”

A one-time grant from the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church helps fund the program, which is promoted online, on flyers distributed by the school, and on the exterior signs of the church and the schools.

Meeting around table with grandparents and support group

The Thursday evening meeting is co-led by Welch and Ontario Schools Social Worker Amy Kurtz-Nagel.  Those attending the meeting have opportunities to tap into resources, as well as tell their stories – which is therapeutic to the person sharing and informative for those who are listening.

“Coming here I learned that I am not alone, which is so helpful to know,” one grandparent shared.

“When I first heard the superintendent talk about grandparents raising their grandchildren I thought ‘what a shame they don’t get to be grandparents, they miss out on the fun parts because they have to be parents.’  I had no idea that that was the least of their concerns,” Welch shared.  “They’re fighting their own children for custody.  They are fighting the courts and even the agencies that are supposed to help them.”

Several adults at the meeting echoed the disappointment shared by one grandparent who said, “I thought the job of Children and Family Services was to protect the kids but they have come out and told us that their job is to reunite the children with their parents – even if they’re not fit to parent.”

“The courts tell you that security is needed in a child’s life, but when they and Children and Family Services are part of the problem – by taking them away from loving environments – they don’t get that security,” another added.

“How do you give a child the security they so desperately want without going broke?” another asked.

“A lot of people can’t afford taking over and trying to raise their grandchildren. My savings are gone just to pay for child care.  It’s what we are all facing,” said another grandparent.

“I don’t want a reward for raising our grandchild, but I don’t want to be penalized, either,” said another.

They spoke about the children they are raising with love and pride.  But they also acknowledged that the kids have frequent nightmares, feel abandoned, have anger and behavioral issues, and constantly seek the approval of others – problems that children their age should not have to face.

“They long for chaos,” one grandparent confided.  “They don’t want it, and they’re sorry after they cause it, but that is what they are used to in their life.”

“Their needs are enormous and I am finding that this is some of the best ministry I’ve ever done outside of the church because there’s nobody else meeting those needs,” Welch said.

“The grandparent ministry has made a positive difference in the lives of several Ontario families,” Carmichael said.  “It provides a sense of community, a sense of knowing they’re not alone.  Grandparents openly share their challenges, without judgement. Many have shared with me that they appreciate having this forum to engage and talk freely about their concerns.”

Grandparentsm kids and mentors eating in at tables in the gym

“The children feel normal when they come here for the meeting,” said one grandparent.  “At school they get picked on because they aren’t being raised by their mother or father.  But here that isn’t an issue because all of the kids are being raised by grandparents.  They can talk with one another and share their feelings.”

Two of the grandparents have begun attending Ontario UMC with the children they are raising because of the way they have been welcomed on Thursday night, and Welch shared that the church youth group has doubled in size since Grandparent Night began last fall.

“This is a valuable ministry and I’d love to see more churches launch groups,” she said.

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

New Way UMC Charters as New Church Start

Benita Rollins speaking on stage, charters New Way

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.

New Way members gather for a photo

“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.

Congregation Continues Its Mission to Change the World

New Philadelphia First United Methodist Church (Tuscarawas District) celebrated Pentecost on May 20 by holding its annual Change the World Sunday.  The day began with the normal three celebrations of worship combined into one 9:00 a.m. service.  Rev. Jim Humphrey preached from James 2, putting faith into deeds and actions, and commissioned the congregation to go out into the world and put its faith into action.

Parishioners selected from more than 16 service projects.  Some built a wheelchair ramp while others demolished the interior of a house for Habitat for Humanity.  People also chose between tilling soil and planting a garden for an area group home; working with the County Board of Developmentally Disabled making gift mugs; and visiting elderly in area care centers.

One group went to the county juvenile attention center, interacted with the youth, and cooked a homemade pizza lunch.  Another group filled out thank you notes and appreciation cards for area police officers, fire fighters, and military personnel, and wrote words of encouragement to inmates in the county jail.

Volunteers worked at the Dover-New Philly Area food bank.  Youth potted flowers and delivered them throughout the community. Children pulled weeds and raked yards for the elderly.  The area group home for girls assisted in grooming animals at the county humane society.  All workers received a homemade lunch.

This is the sixth consecutive May that New Philadelphia First UMC has organized a Change the World Sunday.

“In 2017, well over 150 church and community volunteers completed over 20 projects,” Humphrey said.  “We believe that the church is the body of Christ alive and at work in our world. On this day, we simply encourage intentional acts of serving others as an expression of our faith and God’s love.”