Conversations on a Way Forward Invite Dialogue on the Unity of the Church

By Rick Wolcott*

The Commission on a Way Forward was proposed by the Council of Bishops and approved by the 2016 General Conference to do a complete examination, and possible revision, of every paragraph of The Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality, and explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church.

On September 16, nearly 100 clergy and laity from across the East Ohio Conference participated in a pilot Conversation on a Way Forward that provided opportunities for intentional, meaningful dialogue to discern together how we might strengthen and maintain the unity of The United Methodist Church, and find a way forward through the present impasse related to human sexuality.

“We are here today because we honor and acknowledge that we all hold different views on how we interpret the scriptures as it relates to human sexuality,” said Bishop Tracy S. Malone.  “We are here acknowledging that we have different ways of how we are engaged in relationships and in ministry with our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer brothers and sisters in Christ, the beloved community, the beloved children of God.  We are called to be the Church.  We are called to be those who embody the love and the grace of God.”

Following worship and time spent together framing the conversation, participants gathered in their assigned small groups for facilitated dialogue.  Each group reflected on the following four questions that were crafted by the Council of Bishops for discussion by United Methodists across the denomination:

  • In our diverse and global existence, what is the shared mission of the Church?
  • Is there a proactive way to live together in our differences that doesn’t presume that we will solve our differences?  If so, what would it be?
  • What might be a form of unity that would empower us living together?
  • What is our witness and what can be our witness to the world in relation to our differences?

All clergy and laity in the East Ohio Conference are invited, and encouraged, to participate in any one of the following  Conversations on a Way Forward:

Mon., Oct. 23, 2017, 6-9 pm
Mentor UMC

Tues., Nov. 14, 2017, 6-9 pm
Western Reserve UMC

Sat., Feb. 3, 2018, 10 am-1 pm
Thoburn UMC

Sun., Feb. 4, 2018, 2-5 pm
Willard First UMC

Mon., Feb. 5, 2018, 6-9 pm
Lakewood UMC

Sat., Mar. 3, 2018, 9 am-12 pm
Church of the Lakes UMC

It is important that you register in advance for the conversation you wish to attend, as each location has a seating capacity for small group sessions.  Register here

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

It Feels Like Home to Me

By Emily Sheetz*

“It’s a big, big house with lots and lots of rooms.
A big, big table with lots and lots of food.
A big, big yard where we can play football.
A big, big house. It’s my Father’s house.”

Lyrics from Big House by Audio Adrenaline

This song is one of my favorites from camp, but more about camp later.  For me it is a favorite because it talks about home, and how people come together, and will come together, in our Father’s house.  This summer I added one room, returned to another, and shut the lights off in another.

Nearly three and a half months ago I drove into downtown Steubenville not knowing what to expect as I was beginning an internship in an environment a world apart from what I have known my whole life.  Southeast Ohio is filled with hills and views I do not get in Northeast Ohio and economic challenges far different from suburban Cleveland.

A few Urban Mission staff members with Emily at her going away dinner.

Despite my hesitation, I pulled into the parking lot of Urban Mission ministries (Ohio Valley District) ready to take on this journey experiencing the mission and non-profit sphere of the Church.  Every day brought a new, eye-opening experience.  Each person I met, worked and interacted with made it my best summer yet.  From the very first day, I was welcomed into the community with open arms.  Serving alongside fellow Christians who continue to see the possibilities of spreading the love in a city was encouraging.  It pushed, and pushes, me to live a life with a mission to be a person of possibility, to listen with compassion, and to serve with love.

Four years ago, I spent many Sunday mornings listening to Rev. Dave Scavuzzo plug into his sermons information about a ministry for children in the foster care system.  It peaked my interest because I grew up in a home with a roof over my head every night, food on the table or in the fridge, and a loving family who supports me in everything I do.

RFKC staff waiting for the children to arrive.
RFKC staff waiting for the children to arrive.

Royal Family Kids Camp (RFKC) reaches out to kids who grew up far differently.  It serves 32 children in the Cuyahoga County foster care system that folks from Strongsville United Methodist (North Coast District) bring to camp.  RFKC spreads the concept of a safe home and safe people to others.  At the end of the week, there is a talent show where individual campers or groups of campers can show off their talents to all of camp.

Three years ago, one camper blew us all away.  Throughout the week, we had sung Gold by Britt Nicole and this particular camper wanted to sing it for the talent show.  His family, or small group, encouraged him to go for it.  Once Thursday evening came around, however, there was some stage fright, so his counselors ended up covering him up with a blanket while he sang on the stage.  When the song was over, he came out from under the blanket, welcomed to a standing ovation and so much love.  Now coming back this year and seeing the shy young boy I met three years ago with a huge smile on his face every day, laughing every day, and overall being outgoing was an amazing welcome back to the RFKC room in our Father’s house.

A group of campers and staff at the cross.
A group of campers and staff at the cross.

I have been attending East Ohio Camps for nearly 15 years and this year I shut the lights off in my camper room.  Seven years ago, I pulled into a familiar place for a not so familiar space.  I went into the gates of Lakeside Chautauqua for a new camp experience, to me, for a week of Lakeside Institute.  Lakeside Institute is a high school- and college age-camp and quickly became a non-negotiable week of my summer, but this summer was my last year as a camper.  This camp is where I learned to love myself for who God created me to be, where I found Christ, and where I can look around and say this is what Heaven is going to be like.  As I turned the light off in this room this year, I looked around our closing circle and saw each person as someone God placed in my life over the course of the past seven years for a reason.  I saw each person as someone I cannot wait to share the big, big house, table, and yard with when we are called to our Father’s house.

Lakeside Institute 2017 last year campers.
Lakeside Institute 2017 last year campers.

Home can mean so many things to all of us.  To me it is a place or space filled with people who walk alongside me while I continue to discern where God is calling and leading me in ministry and how He wants me to help others experience home.  As of right now, each room of my Father’s house I have experienced has helped me discern I am called to pastoral ministry in some capacity.  In the coming years, and for the rest of my life, I will be adding more and more rooms that I come in and out of, and adding more and more people to invite “to come and go with me to my Father’s house.”

*Emily Sheetz is a junior at Indiana Wesleyan University studying Community Development and Honors Humanities pursuing ordination in The United Methodist Church.

Church Holds Service to Remember Lives Lost to Addiction

The Cuyahoga County medical examiner’s office reports that “at least 187 victims have died from heroin/fentanyl or in combination” in the first four months of 2017, compared to 140 who died during the same period in 2016.

Those sobering statistics were at the root of Pastor Harlen Rife’s decision to hold a memorial service for lives lost to addiction at Pearl Road United Methodist Church in Cleveland (North Coast District).

Pastor Harlen Rife
Pastor Harlen Rife

“We are here to lift up and remember those that we have lost to addiction.  Often their struggle with substance abuse, and the way we lost them, can dominate our community’s attention leaving little room for the person underneath,” Rife said at the beginning of the Saturday, July 29 service.  “We’re here to reclaim and love those people.  We’re here to be with one another, and to remember that those struggling on this side of life are not alone.  We have each other, and above all we have God with us.”

People from the community turned out to remember loved ones, pray with parishioners of Pearl Road UMC, and speak with professional grief counselors.

“This was such a meaningful worship service and experience for people who have lost somebody,” said Juan Ramirez of First Hispanic UMC.  “I lost my father a couple of years ago and two weeks ago my wife’s uncle’s body was found after one of his so-called friends dumped it in a garbage can after he had overdosed.”

Theirs were two of 32 names read during the service to remember those who lost their life to addiction.

“I never really had a chance to grieve through my dad’s death, I was more angry at the time, and this today gave me an opportunity to actually let go,” Ramirez said.

Kevin Ringer speaks about Recovery Resources
Kevin Ringer speaks about Recovery Resources

“Addiction reaches across all parts of society.  We are seeing that especially right now with opiate addiction.  But there is hope for those who want to break the addiction and that’s what we are here to help resource,” said Kevin Ringer, prevention specialist with Recovery Resources.  He spoke with family members and East Ohio Conference clergy after the service about the agency’s services, which help clients break free from drug addiction as well as get assistance for issues of mental health.

“Because addiction is a problem for so many people I felt like this would be a good opportunity to connect with each other,” Rife said.  “The people we lost mean so much and so often they get flattened into just being someone who was addicted.  This was a chance to say that they were rounded people, complete people with their own lives and experiences and valued by God, and through that to share the message that we’re all part of that community and we’re all valued by God and we can pull together in times of need.  It was a good opportunity for folks to find some healing.”

“This is the way that we make people feel welcome by reaching out and letting God do his thing,” said Ramirez.

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